Baseball is a silly game. Red Sox-Yankees games, especially, are silly — and once in a while, they are fantastically silly. This was the case almost constantly in 2003 and 2004, or so it seems through the mists of nostalgia, but the much-hyped, capital-R Rivalry has been quiet for years now, with precious little of the riveting tension it used to have.
Leave it to Alex Rodriguez to bring at least some of that back, the one guy every sports fan is so unbearably sick of hearing about and reading about and being force-fed opinions about. Even while news was breaking of yet another facet of A-Rod’s involvement in the Biogenesis case, he was taking another Sunday night slog and making it, if nothing else, memorable. Oh, right: This is why everyone cared about him in the first place.
He had some help, of course, from Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster, who threw at Rodriguez in his first time up in the 2nd inning — and missed, so he threw inside again; and again; and finally, on the 3-0 count, Dempster nailed him in or near the ribs. With the caveat that one never truly knows what is going on in the mind of another person, it would take staggering mental gymnastics to watch that sequence of pitches and not conclude that Dempster was throwing at Rodriguez on purpose. (According to one reporter, this was not even some sort of Bold Stance Against PEDs, but rather premeditated revenge for Rodriguez having “snubbed Dempster at a public event,” which, if true, has to be one of the saddest reasons for a beanball in baseball history.)
Girardi was furious — and when Joe Girardi is furious, you can see his entire skull. He shouted things at Dempster that cannot be printed here, though it doesn’t take sophisticated lip-reading skills to discern them if you are so inclined. Umpire Brian O’Nora promptly ejected Girardi, rather than Dempster, and warned the benches, though not before they had already cleared for some intense and indignant milling around the field.
In the end, the Red Sox had more cause to be angry with Dempster than the Yankees did; hitting A-Rod kicked off a two-run inning that eliminated Boston’s lead, and Dempster went on to relinquish another lead in the 6th inning, giving up a total of seven earned runs in a 9-6 Yankees win.
The biggest of those seven earned runs, of course, came from Rodriguez, who, after grounding out in the 3rd, faced Dempster again in the 6th and knocked one far over the wall. At 446 feet, it was the longest home run hit by any Yankee this season.
Rodriguez yelled something as he rounded the bases — the words were harder to make out than Girardi’s earlier tirade, but the sentiment behind them was fairly unmistakable. When he crossed the plate, he came to a full stop and pointed to the sky, effectively trolling Fenway Park, Major League Baseball, the sports media and the world.
The Red Sox, in their own nod to the rivalry’s good old days, brought the tying run to the plate against closer Mariano Rivera, but the game ended, after much held breath, with a harmless flyout.
The Yankees are not really in the playoff hunt anymore. They are only six back from a wild card spot, but there are five teams ahead of them — younger teams, mostly, up-and-comers who are less likely to fade down the stretch than this creaky bunch. (It’s not the distance, it’s the traffic.) They are close enough, however, that they can’t quite give up, not entirely, not yet.
More than that, though, Sunday night’s game took on its own momentum. It had very real playoff implications, as every game does, for the Sox (who are holding down a slim one-game lead in the AL East), but it also had an energy that had nothing to do with that — at least for Yankees fans. It had some of that old fire, in ways that few Yankees games have had in this mostly lost season.
This version of Alex Rodriguez is vastly more trouble than he’s worth, no doubt — earlier in the day Brian Cashman told reporters that he is “not comfortable” even speaking to the team’s third baseman, and Rodriguez in turn told reporters, “Put the mic down. I’m not talking about sh*t.” For at least this one at-bat on this one night, though, you remembered what all the fuss was about in the first place.
The guy’s knack for drama is much less excruciating when it is applied to baseball. Remember baseball?