Alex Rodriguez vs. Ryan Dempster

The last time the Yankees and Red Sox started a regular-season gongshow I was playing in a Wiffle ball tournament on my friend’s front lawn. I remember hearing the news and being devastated that I missed it, but not as devastated as I was a few hours later when I found out the Yankees had lost the game on a Bill Mueller walk-off home run.

I never believed that brawl turned the Red Sox season around. The Red Sox had a rotation led by Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling, the best 3-4 lineup combination in the world with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez (two performance-enhancing drug users that the city of Boston has conveniently forgot about), a .304/.380/.477 guy leading off in Johnny Damon and a strong mix-and-match bullpen. They made a key deadline trade and won 98 games. They weren’t an underdog story and were never supposed to be one. They were built to be a juggernaut and a bench-clearing brawl didn’t make them one.

I don’t think the near-brawl on Sunday night will turn the Yankees season around. If the Yankees make the playoffs it will be because they are finally healthy for the first time this season and their lineup finally has actual Major League players in it. They will make the playoffs if CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte stop sucking. And they will make the playoffs if Phil Hughes only sucks a little. They won’t make the playoffs because Ryan Dempster wanted a picture of him and A-Rod in every bar in Boston the way the picture of A-Rod and Varitek is.

After Ryan Dempster’s first fastball sailed behind A-Rod’s legs on Sunday night, I thought it just got away from Dempster and the Fenway crowd’s cheers were an attempt to relive what happened nine years ago and make something of a nothing moment. Then the second fastball came inside on A-Rod, but not enough for him to move out of the way and I thought Dempster was just going to pitch A-Rod inside and try to get him to ground out to short or pop one up in the infield. The third fastball was more inside than the second pitch and A-Rod jumped back, but it wasn’t as much inside as the first pitch and a reason to think anything. And then there was the fourth fastball, which drilled A-Rod in the side.

Immediately following the fourth fastball, I didn’t think Ryan Dempster was trying to hit A-Rod. Why would he? Up until that hit by pitch, A-Rod had been 2-for-2 (two singles) with a walk against Dempster in his career, but that certainly wasn’t enough for Dempster to want to hit him unless A-Rod showboated on one of those two singles. And here were the Red Sox, leading the Yankees 2-0 with a chance to win the game and the series and bury the Yankees’ division chances, so why would Dempster hit him? It couldn’t possibly be because A-Rod had been suspended 211 games by Major League Baseball for performance-enhancing drugs and that he was still playing after appealing his suspension? Ryan Dempster, who has been a player rep, couldn’t possibly be against the rules that he helped create as part of the union, could he?

I didn’t immediately think that Ryan Dempster could think he is Mr. Baseball and the protector of the game. I didn’t think that the failed starter turned failed reliever turned failed closer turned average NL starter turned awful AL starter would think that it’s his duty to take a stand against PEDs and back the sport that cared less about PEDs 15 years ago than they do terrible umpiring now. But for that at-bat and I’m sure the time leading up to that at-bat when he found out he would pitch against the Yankees and A-Rod in the series, Dempster thought he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the face of the good guy’s in baseball and forgot that he’s the career under-.500 pitcher with the 4.87 ERA since coming to the AL last season and the only thing he’s ever led the league in is walks (2001) and earned runs (2002).

Going into Sunday night and into that first at-bat with A-Rod, Dempster undoubtedly thought he would leave Sunday night’s game as someone who did baseball a favor, a hero in Red Sox Nation, a role model for the sport and the first guy to stand up to PED users on the field. But when he left Sunday night’s game with one out in the sixth inning┬áto the most embarrassing of Fenway Park standing ovations (and there have been plenty of them over the years) after giving up an absolute A-Bomb to A-Rod and loading the bases, Dempster hadn’t accomplished any of his goals. And when Brett Gardner smoked a three-run triple, which cleared the bases that Dempster had loaded up for Drake Britton and gave the Yankees the lead, the only thing Dempster had accomplished was opening the door for the Yankees’ division and playoff chances a little more and turning A-Rod into somewhat of a likeable figure for those who have no reason to like him.

The difference between Ryan Dempster and I is that I don’t care that A-Rod used PEDs. (This is also the difference between beat writers and I. Well, it’s not the only difference. Excessive eating, giving unnecessary stats, asking bad questions, telling corny jokes and tweeting the play-by-play of spring training games are also some differences.) I don’t care that A-Rod used PEDs, admitted to using them, said he would never use them again and then used them again. I don’t care that he might have thrown other players under the bus or that every day there’s another story connecting A-Rod to shady characters in South Florida or doctors with sketchy pasts or to lawyers better suited for a Lifetime movie or that Brian Cashman is “uncomfortable” talking to him or that his lawyers are planning to sue the Yankees. I care about the Yankees winning games and A-Rod helps them do that.