Rodriguez returns to Oakland, plays game he cannot win 

Even before the man with more home runs than Willie Mays stepped to into the batter's box for the first time on Thursday night, the fans were locked and loaded at O.co Coliseum.

"Booooo!" the usual 20,000-plus fans cleared their throats.

Now batting ... designated hitter ... No. 13 ...

"Boooooooooo!"

Alex ... Rodriguez ...

"Booooooooooooooo!"

At 39, Rodriguez is almost immune to the Bronx cheers by now. Wherever the admitted PEDs user has played on the road this season, his name has generated a negative response, some places louder than others.

It's a small price to pay for a guy who has $6 million in bonus money, bloated career numbers and a potential Hall of Fame induction on the line.

Rodriguez reached another milestone on a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning. The RBI moved into a tie for second place with another ex-Giant, none other than Barry Bonds, his longtime buddy.

"I mean, you say the same thing about (Babe) Ruth and (Lou) Gehrig, and Barry's the same thing — he's one of the greats," Rodriguez said afterward. "It is kind of special because he's also a friend and I know him very well."

By most accounts, Rodriguez has been a model citizen in wake of the Biogenesis scandal, which resulted in his suspension for the 2014 season. He has done most of the right things. He has said most if not all of the right things.

Then again, Rodriguez has little choice in the matter. If he wants to polish his tarnished image and ultimately gain admittance into the Hall of Fame, then it's imperative to talk lightly and carry a big stick.

"A great teammate," Yankees reserve Garrett Jones called him. "We talk about hitting a lot. He knows more about hitting than anyone I've played with. He's fun to be around."

"I'm actually reserved when I talk about the art of hitting," Rodriguez said before the game. "There are a lot of people who know more about hitting than me. But I do love the game, and I like to talk about it."

Rodriguez has furthered his case with a productive performance that deserves serious Comeback Player of the Year consideration. He took a .276 batting average, 11 homers and 26 RBI into the game.

"We really didn't know what to expect because he hadn't played in two years because of hip surgery," manager Joe Girardi said. "But he has been really good."

Major League Baseball would like Rodriguez, Bonds and the rest of the steroids era to move forward as well. That was apparent when commissioner Fred Manfred offered a vote of confidence to Rodriguez at the owners' meetings recently. The public show of support was in contrast to the stormy relationship that existed between Rodriguez and commissioner Bud Selig's office last season.

"Alex has done a great job re-entering in a difficult situation," Manfred said. "Whenever a player suspended it's difficult to return to the field. He's played well, and good for him. I'm pleased for him."

Yet the only opinions that count are those of the fans, really, the ones whom Rodriguez cheated and lied to for years. They are the judge and the jury, and they continue to speak in a loud voices in ballparks across the country.

In the fourth inning, Rodriguez made a nifty slide to elude a tag at home plate. He was ruled out on the play, but after a video review, the call was reversed to a slew of boos and a few muffled cheers.

pladewski@sfexaminer.com

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