Closing Time: Ryan Dempster drills A-Rod, but Rodriguez, Yankees get last laugh vs. Red Sox

August 18, 2013 - 8:19 pm
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There has been little drama surrounding the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry in recent years, but the teams'€™ series finale Sunday night at Fenway Park, an 9-6 Yankees win, featured a good-sized dose of it. And there is one, central character for everyone to thank: Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez '€” who before the game drew the ire of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, and who hired a lawyer who slammed the entire Yankees organization in a New York Times report Saturday, and who is appealing his 211-game suspension for connections to the Biogenesis scandal '€” stepped to the plate for his first at-bat of the night, donning the same what-did-I-do face he has so often of late. Right-hander Ryan Dempster gave him four straight fastballs: the first behind the knees, the second and third inside. With the fourth, though, hitting 92 on the radar gun, Dempster found Rodriguez'€™ back. Home plate umpire Brian O'€™Nora immediately warned both benches, bringing a fuming Joe Girardi flying out of the Yankees dugout. He tossed his hat and was quickly ejected. Both benches cleared and the bullpens emptied as Rodriguez stood near home and stared at the mound. No punches were thrown '€” indeed, the teams'€™ personnel didn'€™t get so close that they had to be forcibly separated '€” and order was quickly restored. Four innings later, the story changed from beaning to beaming. Dempster threw Rodriguez (3-for-4) another fastball, and this time it was the controversial third baseman who didn'€™t miss. It landed 10 rows deep in the center-field seats, and with a fist pump around first and emphatic clap after stepping on home plate, Rodriguez began what ended up being a decisive four-run rally for New York. The Red Sox loss, coupled with a Rays win on Sunday, left Boston with just a one-game lead in the AL East as the team embarks for its six-game trip to California. It also marks the third straight series loss for the Sox, who had dropped that many in a row just once previously this season (May 3-12 against the Rangers, Twins and Blue Jays). WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX -- A month of struggles continued for Dempster, who despite seven innings of one-run ball his last time out owned a 5.46 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in his last five starts entering Sunday night. Early returns were positive, with Dempster getting Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki swinging to start things off. But after that things fell apart for the 36-year-old righty. He allowed seven runs on nine hits, one walk and that notorious hit-by-pitch in 5 1/3 innings. He finished with only one additional strikeout. Dempster will need to turn things around soon or risk losing his spot in the rotation. Clay Buchholz is a couple of weeks away from a return '€” he is scheduled for a simulated game Wednesday in San Francisco '€” and at this rate the Red Sox might be hard-pressed to put Dempster and his 4.77 ERA on the mound every five days. Dempster also has experience working in relief, having served as the Cubs'€™ closer from 2005 until 2007. -- Jacoby Ellsbury had one of the worst offensive nights of his career. He did not make contact in any of his five plate appearances, going 0-for-4 with a walk and, for the first time in his career, four strikeouts. He'd previously punched out three times in a game on 10 separate occasions, none since 2011. -- Drake Britton, the rookie southpaw tasked with retiring a threesome of Yankee lefties, fell far short of what manager John Farrell had hoped. Britton relieved Dempster with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth and promptly gave up an 0-1, bases-clearing triple to Gardner to hand New York the lead. Suzuki grounded into a fielder'€™s choice, then Cano singled to left. Right-hander Brandon Workman (one run in one inning) replaced Britton, who recorded one out for the shortest outing of his young major league career. The other left-handed reliever to see action was Franklin Morales, who allowed two hits but escaped with his second scoreless appearance (two-thirds of an inning) of the weekend and since returning from the disabled list. -- The whole taking-matters-in-their-own-hands tactic didn'€™t work out too well for Dempster and the Red Sox. After the Rodriguez plunking, the Yankees came back with a pair of runs that at the time tied the game. Curtis Granderson snuck a double down the right-field line shortly after order was restored, and both runners came around to score. Eduardo Nunez plated Rodriguez with a single to center, and Lyle Overbay drove in Granderson with a sacrifice fly to left. WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX -- Most nights, the way the Red Sox wore down CC Sabathia would have been good for a lot more than a mere consolation prize. Sabathia settled in a bit after allowing a pair of runs during a 27-pitch first inning, but still departed earlier than he usually does. He finished 5 1/3 innings while giving up six runs on seven hits and five walks, which is actually par for the course of late. As poor as Dempster has pitched since the All-Star break, Sabathia has been even worse. In his most recent six starts, including Sunday, Sabathia has averaged fewer than six innings per outing and posted a 7.86 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. Hitting Sabathia around is a good sign for the Red Sox, who had been stifled by just about every left-hander they had seen of late, even those with, well, less-than-perfect stuff. Sunday offered somewhat of a reprieve of those struggles. Of the left-handed hitters, only David Ortiz (double) had a hit, while the other six batters went a combined 7-for-26. Since the start of the 2011 season, Sabathia has allowed six or more runs on 10 occasions -- six of which have come against the Red Sox. -- Will Middlebrooks'€™ resurgence continued, this time with a healthy cut that sent a Sabathia 93 mph fastball into the Red Sox bullpen in the fourth inning. He also drew a walk and ripped a line-drive double into the left-field corner, showing the ability to drive the ball to all fields. Although Middlebrooks has been more than fine since his return to the big league club, collecting at least a hit in every contest to go with his .435 average and .519 OBP through seven games, Sunday got a bit of a monkey off his back. The long ball '€” which he sent the opposite way, no less '€” was his first in the majors since June 16. Middlebrooks gives the Red Sox five batters with double-digit homers on the season, but only two players '€” David Ortiz (24) and Mike Napoli (15) '€” have more. Daniel Nava and Jarrod Saltalamacchia also have an even 10 each. -- Junichi Tazawa tossed two-thirds of an inning, which included an infield single to Rodriguez, and escaped a bases-loaded jam by inducing a fly out from Granderson. In 13 2/3 innings against the Yankees since the start of 2012, Tazawa has not allowed any earned runs. -- Nava, who has played first in all of 14 games in his career, made a pair of notable picks while filling in for Mike Napoli, who was out for the second game in a row with a lingering foot issue.

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