CSN NEW ENGLAND – If the Red Sox invite you to a game of poker, consider yourself warned: They are pretty good at keeping straight faces. The Sox lost to the Yankees, 9-6, Sunday night at Fenway Park. The outcome of the game, though, was virtually a footnote to what happened in the second inning – except that it could have been directly attributable to it.
With the Sox leading by two runs, right-hander Ryan Dempster hit Alex Rodriguez, the first batter of the inning, with a pitch. It was the fourth pitch of the at-bat, on a 3-and-0, 92-mph fastball. Dempster threw four fastballs to Rodriguez – the first in the dirt and behind him, the next two in tight, and the fourth up on his left arm. But, Rodriguez would get his revenge – his team won and he was a major reason for it.
Rodriguez, who would eventually score in the second inning as the Yankees tied the game, was on base four times, going 3-for-4. He hit a solo home run, his second of the season, when he crushed another Dempster fastball into the bleachers in straightaway center field in the Yankees’ four-run sixth. He scored two runs scored and drove in two. It was his first three-hit game since Sept. 22, 2012.
Rodriguez has become a pariah among his peers. He is the player that opponents’ fans – and even some Yankees fans -- love to hate. A-Rod, the poster boy for all that could go wrong in a career, the immensely talented – and compensated – player who seems to continuously make one misstep after another without ever learning from his previous errors.
And –most galling for some -- he continues to play while appealing his 211-game suspension for PED use and obstruction. This was the second time in 12 games since returning from the DL on Aug. 5 that he was hit by a pitch.
Earlier in the day on Sunday, his attorneys began the process of filing a grievance that claims his medical treatment was mishandled by the Yankees this season and last. The possibility that Rodriguez could impact a game –as he did Sunday -- and potentially the pennant race has not been lost on his opponents. Several Sox players, including right-hander John Lackey who got the win on Saturday, have been vocal about their displeasure that Rodriguez is still playing.
All of which would seem to set the stage for those who were watching to believe that Dempster’s pitch – actually, all four of them – were delivered with a message and a purpose. And intent. Not so, says the right-hander.
“No, I was trying to pitch him inside,” Dempster said, when asked if he deliberately hit Rodriguez.
“I’m more disappointed by the fact that I couldn’t hold a 6-3 lead. That’s the bigger story there…I didn’t do a very good job of making pitches in the sixth inning. Got to execute better. When the guys go out there and score a bunch of runs off a guy like [CC] Sabathia, you got to make your pitches. And I didn’t do that.”
“I don’t know that he hit him on purpose,” said manager John Farrell. “I don’t think he did.”
“He’s a good hitter,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “We hadn’t really gone in on him all series. Dempster is a guy that can’t overpower. So he’s got to get crafty with his pitches. He goes off of location. To keep him from diving, you kind of have to go in on the guy. He got to a 2-0 count. I think he wanted to go in there again just to get a strike and that way we could maybe go away, get him thinking in, in, in, in. Couldn’t get there, 3-0, and I think he wanted to go in there again. At times you go in for a strike in non-fastball counts just so you can throw away. Just didn’t work.”
The thoughts were a little different in the visitors’ clubhouse after the game. After Rodriguez was plunked, both benches and bullpens emptied and warnings were issued by home plate umpire Brian O’Nora. Yankees manager Joe Girardi was ejected by O’Nora for arguing.
"Everyone knows that it’s intentional and I don’t understand why [Dempster is] left in the game and then to give us a warning?,” Girardi said. “That was wrong ... You can’t start changing the system because maybe you don’t like it.
"You can’t change it and just take your potshots. And you have to have your head in the sand with the comments that came from the other side not to know that something might be up. So I thought it was handled very poorly. “It’s just flat wrong." Rodriguez didn't like it either.
“Whether you like me or hate me, that’s wrong and that was unprofessional and silly, and kind of a silly way to get somebody hurt on your team, as well,” Rodriguez said.
Asked if he thought Dempster should be suspended for hitting him, Rodriguez replied:
"I’m the wrong guy to be asking about suspensions."
The Red Sox could understand the Yankees’ feelings, but say they’re misguided. “If it’s one of my players, yeah, I’m going to interpret it a certain way on our side as well,” Farrell said.
“I totally understand the situation and them feeling that way,” said Shane Victorino. “You know Dempster’s just trying to pitch inside. That’s part of sometimes what he’s trying to do and obviously we found out what happens when you leave a ball out over the plate. [Rodriguez] put that ball in center field. It’s all part of the game however they want to interpret it. We all understand the situations. At the end of the day it is what it is. Just keep plugging along. We’ll figure out how it’s going to be handled.”
Asked if thought A-Rod should still be playing, Victorino replied: “That’s Major League Baseball’s decision. They need to figure it out. I sit here and I’ve said that before, I’m not going to sit here and decide what should and shouldn’t be done.”
Players also have another means to police the game. Rodriguez is appealing as is his right under the collective bargaining agreement. If players don’t like that, they can work to change the CBA. Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who earned the win, was asked if he had considered retaliating.
“I think Alex did the best retaliation by going deep,” Sabathia said. “There’s not much more to say about that. A guy drills you then you go deep off him. We get the win. [Dempster] gives up seven [runs]."
And therein lies part of the problem. While baseball has its unwritten rules and players want to police the game themselves, the Red Sox are still fighting for a play-off spot. You only have to look back at September 2011 to remember that there are no sure things. With the loss, the Sox lead in the division is down to one game over the Rays.
The Sox have lost four of their last five games, and seven of their last 10. They dropped their third consecutive series. They are just 15-14 since the All-Star break, with a difficult West Coast trip coming up. Every game is important. They can ill afford to be cavalier with wins.
The Sox have seven games left against the Yankees, four at Yankee Stadium on Sept 5-8, and three at Fenway on Sept. 13 -15. Barring anything unforeseen, Rodriguez will be in the Yankees lineup. The Sox have to work to keep him off the bases -- and out of their heads.
“Hopefully, we just go out there when it’s our turn to pitch and make pitches against whoever we’re facing and get outs,” Dempster said. “Whether it’s Alex or [Robinson] Cano or whoever’s in their lineup. That was a tough series. We had a chance to win that game tonight and it got away from us.”
- Maureen Mullen, CSN New England