Ryan Dempster took it upon himself to speak for the baseball communtiy on Sunday night when he plunked Alex Rodriguez with a fastball. A-Rod has been a A-Lightning-Rod for criticism and bitter animosity ever since his decision to play through an appeal of his 211-game suspension from Major League Baseball for alleged PED (performance enhancing drug) usage.
It was a situation that had been bubbling all weekend. The Yankees came to town on Friday and many suspected John Lackey would have been the one to plunk Alex Rodriguez in the middle game of the series. Lackey had some strong words prior to the Yankees-Red Sox three game series about the whole Alex Rodriguez situation. "I've got a problem with it. You bet I do," Lackey told the Boston Globe on Thursday. "How is he still playing?"
After the Red Sox lost the first game of the series, the timing perhaps wasn't right for Lackey to deliver the message. Lackey, surprisingly, has been one of the best Red Sox pitchers all year. Tampa Bay has been nipping at the Red Sox heels for a while. The Yankees have surged recently thanks, in large part, to the acquisition of Alfonso Soriano. The Baltimore Orioles are still lurking. When the Yankees won the first game of the series, the Red Sox really couldn't afford to lose Lackey to an ejection or possible suspension.
So it fell on Ryan Dempster on Sunday. My image of Dempster has always been one of a prankster. I've also viewed Dempster as a person who respects the game of baseball-- its unwritten rules, its players, managers, media members. From Dempster's first pitch, you could see in his face that he was not in a joking mood. Brett Gardner may have been in the batter's box, but Dempster's focus was set on the name in the fifth slot in the Yankees lineup.
Dempster would have to wait until the second inning to face Rodriguez. Dempster missed on his first attempt to hit him. The pitch went behind A-Rod and to the backstop. The crowd cheered. I'm sure more than a few, maybe even in the Yankees dugout, chuckled. That should have been the end of it. Instead, Dempster honed his sights and nailed Rodriguez on the arm.
The home plate umpire ran out from behind the plate, removed his mask, pointed to both dugouts, then to the mound. Surely he was going to wave for Dempster to hit the showers. Instead, umpire Brian O'Nara simply, but emphatically, warned both benches. Yankees manager Joe Girardi nearly popped a blood vessel, running out to the plate, and slamming his hat to the ground before getting ejected. It was Billy Martin reincarnate.
It was high drama. It made for great TV. But was it the right decision? The Red Sox were up, 2-0, at the time. Tampa had won earlier in the day to close to within a game-and-a-half of Boston. The Orioles had won to close to within five games.
Rodriguez has been back playing games for close to two weeks now. Why was it incumbent upon the Red Sox to deliver the message for all of baseball? The White Sox, Tigers, and Angels all had their chances to plunk A-Rod. The White Sox and Angels have nothing to play for. They're not going to the playoffs, yet they passed on the opportunity.
The Red Sox may have won the battle, but they lost the game, 9-6, thanks, in part, to a Rodriguez home run later in the game. Did the beaning motivate the Yankees to victory? Are the Yankees now going to make the playoffs? My answers are "maybe not" to the first question and "highly doubt it" to the second. It didn't look like many of the Yankees players were willing to come to the aid of Rodriguez on the field following the altercation. Sure, A-Rod received some cursory high-fives from his teammates following the home run, but there was no over-the-top back slapping going on in the dugout. Moments later, Rodriguez would again be sitting alone in the dugout, spitting out sunflower seeds.
Many will say, "It's only one game." A look at recent history should remind fans that the Red Sox missed out on the playoffs on the final day of the 2011 season. Looking further back, nobody would still be talking about the 1978 collapse if the Red Sox had won one more game at some point during that season.
Is it fair that Rodriguez is allowed to play, and possibly influence pennant races, while awaiting a ruling on his appeal of his suspension? Of course not. Rodriguez wants you to believe that all the other twelve players that were suspended were guilty and quickly accepted their suspensions, but he is innocent?
The Red Sox shouldn't compound things by costing themselves a game and possibly a playoff spot in order to gain retribution against Rodriguez. Was it worth it? What did it accomplish? Did you sleep better last night?