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BOSTON -- Now it can be revealed: There is a vast, baseball-wide conspiracy against Alex Rodriguez, and it includes the commissioner of baseball, the front office of the New York Yankees and players like Ryan Dempster.
They are conspiring, however improbably, to turn A-Rod into a sympathetic figure, and however unwittingly -- at least in the case of Dempster and whoever else takes it into his own hands to mete out the punishment that baseball's collective bargaining agreement has deferred -- to bring the Yankees together at just the wrong time for the rest of the American League.
If you want to look for rallying points in a season that has had woefully few of them so far, look no further than the weekend of Aug. 16-19, 2013.
It started on Friday with new allegations that A-Rod had implicated fellow players, including a teammate, in the Biogenesis scandal. It ended 19 minutes into Monday morning with the Yankees celebrating a 9-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox, sparked in no small part by Dempster's deliberate beanball, followed four innings later by A-Rod's devastating moon shot.
If, a month or so from now, it turns out the Yankees have sneaked into one of the two AL wild-card spots, or even overtaken the first-place Red Sox, this is the weekend when that turnaround will have started.
Between Friday and Monday morning, there were a plethora of new charges, counter-charges and counter-counter-charges leveled between Rodriguez's lawyers and the Yankees' front office, the kind of stuff that only appeals to legal buffs, journalists and JFK assassination freaks.
But to those who care about baseball, it is less important what A-Rod's MRIs showed in October than what the Yankees showed this weekend.
By taking two of three from the Red Sox -- and more important, rallying around their third baseman when the rest of the world, right down to his GM and the team president who negotiated the $275 million deal the Yankees are now so desperate to be rid of, seemed to want him to disappear, or worse -- the Yankees showed they might still have a late-season run in them.
What happened in the second inning of Sunday's game -- Dempster threw behind A-Rod with his first pitch of the inning, threw close with his next two, and finally plunked him on the left elbow with the fourth pitch, resulting in the ejection of enraged manager Joe Girardi and a near-brawl as Yankees spilled out of their dugout and the bullpen -- showed that even the most unpopular player in an entire sport can still be an object to rally around for his team.
Never underestimate the power of the "Us against Them" syndrome, especially in the world of professional sports.
From the moment Dempster's fastball honed in on A-Rod's elbow, the Yankees had caught it, and bad.
|Alex Rodriguez hammered a solo home run in the sixth off Ryan Dempster, who beaned him in the second inning of the Yankees' win.|
"How could it not get you fired up?" said Brett Gardner, the second-most angry Yankee on the field after Girardi, who looked as if he may have thrown a punch at plate umpire Brian O'Nora. "We know that we're at a point in the season where we've got to play every game like it's our last, and we were able to win the series."
"He should've thrown [Dempster] out of the game," said Girardi, still seething more than three hours after his ejection. "Everyone knows it was intentional and I don't understand why he's left in the game. And then to give us a warning? I thought it was handled very poorly. It's just flat wrong."
"That was bootleg," said CC Sabathia, who got the win despite allowing six earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. "I think it definitely fired up the guys, of course. A guy throwing at one player three or four times is never good."
Even when the guy is Alex Rodriguez, who was called "a distraction" by GM Brian Cashman before the game, and whose daily soap opera of a life has certainly become a nightly migraine for Girardi, who has been forced to address it before and after every game.
But the Yankees need to win ballgames, a lot of them, and they need Alex Rodriguez to help them do it.
Besides, even when a guy appears as guilty as A-Rod does right now, there comes a limit to everything. At some point, even a guy's biggest detractors are going to be turned off by piling on.
All weekend long, the Red Sox fans booed Rodriguez. Their starting pitcher, John Lackey, took a few shots at him in the media. And their starter Sunday, Dempster, took a literal shot at him four batters into the game.
That seemed to be the tipping point. Girardi, who rarely uses profanity and claims never to have thrown a punch in his life, certainly appeared to have done both on this night. Gardner, normally as laid back as they come, needed to be restrained by Robinson Cano from charging into someone. And Rodriguez, who was clearly simmering, simply jogged to first base. Then, leading off the sixth inning, he blasted a shot nearly 450 feet into the center-field bleachers to cut the Red Sox lead from 6-3 to 6-4, and sparked a four-run rally, capped by -- who else? -- Gardner's bases-loaded triple, that resulted in a rousing 9-6 victory.
Afterward, Rodriguez spoke less about his home run than about the support of his manager and his teammates, a clear sign that until this night, that was something he wasn't completely sure of.
"Today kind of brought us together," Rodriguez said. "Joe's reaction was amazing. Every single one of my teammates came up to me and said, 'Hit a bomb and walk it off.' They were as pissed as I was. Hopefully we can take this and build some momentum for the rest of the year."
"I think Alex did the best retaliation by going deep," said Sabathia, who noticeably did not respond in kind. "There's not much more to say about that. A guy drills you and then you go deep off him, we get the win, he gives up seven. What can you say?"
There really wasn't much more to be said. Girardi and a few Yankees said they were angered by the presumptuousness of Dempster, a former union rep himself, choosing to express his displeasure with Rodriguez's right to appeal his 211-game suspension by drilling him with a pitch.
Additionally, Girardi was angry at O'Nora, who issued warnings to both benches but did not eject Dempster for what looked like a deliberate beanball. Girardi said he feared O'Nora's inaction could send a signal to the rest of the league that every pitcher has one free shot at A-Rod.
But all that, like the minutiae of Rodriguez's complaints against the Yankees, and the Yankees' and baseball's complaints against him, are just a sideshow to the main event, which is how and when this 2013 season will end.
"It was obvious what was going on," Gardner said. "And we were able to come together, get fired up and get the win, so you have to be happy about it."
For the rest of the world, it seems, and even for his bosses, the trials and tribulations of Alex Rodriguez have been a nuisance, a distraction, a headache and a source of morbid fascination.
But starting this past weekend in Boston, they seemed to be something else for his teammates.