Ryan Dempster, Red Sox deny intentionally drilling Alex Rodriguez

August 18, 2013 - 11:05 pm

According to Ryan Dempster, the most important at-bat of Sunday's game was the walk he issued to Chris Stewart in the sixth inning. On most nights, that would be a reasonable statement to make about a walk that loaded the bases and eventually yielded the go-ahead run. But on Sunday, Dempster also hit Alex Rodriguez squarely with a pitch after narrowly missing him with a previous one, touching off a frenzied few minutes that ended in both teams being warned and Yankees manager Joe Girardi being ejected from the game. Aside from the boos from the stands, it had started to seem that Rodriguez would leave Boston without his plans to appeal a 211-game suspension visibly affecting what happened on the field. But then Dempster's fastball hit Rodriguez in the arm, rousing both teams from their dugouts and emptying the bullpens. No brawl ensued, but Girardi was ejected after expressing his feelings about the play to Dempster and home plate umpire Brian O'Nora. Red Sox manager John Farrell said Dempster was aiming to establish his fastball inside when he hit Rodriguez, and that his failure to do so early in the game had contributed to his struggles on the night. Dempster gave up seven runs on nine hits, a walk and a HBP over 5 1/3 innings. "Much like Ryan has done in many, many starts, is that he established his fastball," Farrell said. "He'€™s got to establish it in. We saw later on, when he doesn'€™t establish his fastball in, Rodriguez gets his arms extended on a ball that he drives out of the ballpark to center field. But whether it was Stewart, [Eduardo] Nunez, Rodriguez, you can look back to all three. The approach, the plan to establish hard-in was very evident." Dempster gave a brief version of the same explanation: "I was trying to pitch him inside." However, Dempster's first pitch to Rodriguez flew behind him, making Rodriguez jump away. The next two pitches were balls, inside. In light of that start, Dempster said he wasn't surprised to receive a warning, although he said the first pitch to Rodriguez was intended to be a sinker down and in. "When the first one got away, I thought after that maybe there would be [a warning]," Dempster said. "It escalated pretty early. But then Brian [O'Nora] did an unbelievable job throughout the rest of the game. There were some more guys hit, guys pitched inside, both teams, and he did a really good job of controlling the game back there." Given the fact MLB is aiming to suspend Rodriguez for obstructing the league's investigation into the Biogenesis clinic and the third baseman's alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, a number of players have voiced displeasure about the fact that Rodriguez remains on the field while appealing his suspension. That being the case, it was no great logical leap to think Dempster may have targeted him. Farrell acknowledged that in Girardi's place, he would likely have been just as outraged at the apparent sight of one of his players being hit intentionally. Shane Victorino said he understood the Yankees' perspective, but echoed Dempster and Farrell's words. "I totally understand the situation and them feeling that way," Victorino said. "You know Dempster's just trying to pitch inside. That'€™s part, sometimes, of what he's trying to do. Obviously we found out what happens when you leave the ball out over the plate. [Rodriguez] put that ball in center field. It's all part of the game. However they want to interpret it, we all understand the situation. At the end of the day, it is what it is. We're going to keep plugging along and figure out what's going to be handled and how it's going to be handled." Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was behind the plate, also said he thought the pitch was a simple attempt to work inside. "You saw what happens when we go away," Saltalamacchia said. "[Rodriguez is] a good hitter. We hadn't really gone in on him all series. Dempster is a guy that can't overpower, so he's got to get crafty with his pitches. He goes off of location. To keep him from diving, you kind of have to go in on the guy. He got to a 2-0 count. I think he wanted to go in there again just to get a strike and that way we could maybe go away, get him thinking in, in, in, in. Couldn't get there, 3-0, and I think he wanted to go in there again. At times you go in for a strike in non-fastball counts just so you can throw away. Just didn't work." Whatever Dempster's intent, the pitch didn't do the Red Sox any good: Rodriguez came around to score after being plunked, and Curtis Granderson tied the score on a sacrifice fly later that inning. Then, with the Sox leading 6-3 in the sixth, Rodriguez took a fastball from Dempster over the center-field wall, crossing the plate for the second time. Dempster followed that by giving up a pair of singles and a walk, at which point he was pulled from the game. Brett Gardner's subsequent triple off of Drake Britton scored all three runners to put the Yankees on top 7-6. Rodriguez shouted as he rounded first on the home run and pointed to the sky as he crossed home plate. Dempster said he wasn't surprised by that reaction. "I knew he got it when he hit it," Dempster said. "I'm sure any time any hitter gets hit by a pitch, when you hit a home run the next time up, it always probably feels good. That's just reality." The Sox had gotten to CC Sabathia early: six different players drove in runs against him, and Will Middlebrooks hit his 10th home run of the year. But that offensive outburst was nullified by Dempster's sixth inning, and the Sox couldn't recapture the lead against the Yankees' bullpen. Dempster maintained that giving up four runs in the sixth to put the Yankees ahead was what bothered him most on Sunday. "The pitch to Alex was down, it was just over the middle a little bit, and he likes the ball down," Dempster said of the inning. "And then Nunez hit a good pitch. He hit a slider off the dirt for a single off the wall. And then I didn't execute. I didn't execute to [Lyle] Overbay, and I walked Stewart. That's a situation -- that at-bat was the biggest at-bat of the game, in my mind. And that lies on me. I didn't do a very good job. When you've got [runners on] first and second and you're trying to get a ground ball and you walk a guy with four pitches, it's really, in my mind, kind of unacceptable." That inning, and especially the home run, were indeed significant in a year in which Dempster has been plagued by the long ball. Both his home runs per nine innings rate and his home run to fly ball ratio rank among the 10 highest in the AL. After a promising seven-inning, one-run outing in Toronto on August 13, Sunday's game was a step back toward the inefficient, inconsistent version of Dempster the Sox have seen through July and August. But while Dempster's ineffective outing doomed the Sox to a 9-6 loss, the lasting image of Sunday's nationally televised game will be that of the ball colliding with Rodriguez in the second inning, and the accusations that ensued. "I don't know that he hit him on purpose," Farrell said. "I don't think that he did."

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