A-Rod thrives as both villain and victim

BOSTON -- We'll leave it to one of our neighborhood's deepest thinkers to weigh in on the meaning of Alex Rodriguez in Sunday night’s 9-6 New York Yankee win over the Boston Red Sox, though they just missed each other by about a century or so.

“As there is a use in medicine for poisons," Ralph Waldo Emerson of Concord once wrote, “so the world cannot move without rogues."

Oh we so loathe, and so love, our bad guys, and Sunday night in Fenway Park, Rodriguez put the V in villainy with an evening's entertainment breathtaking in its brazenness. The Yankees’ third baseman, whose own general manager, Brian Cashman, admits to being worn out by the daily dose of drama that emanates from Planet Alex, responded to a blatant drilling by Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster by coming around to score in the second, bringing home the go-ahead run with an infield out in the third, then touching off a four-run, game-turning rally in the sixth with a prodigious home run into the center-field bleachers.

He then singled in his final two at-bats, finishing with five hits for the weekend and raising the very real possibility that a player regarded as a serial cheater could be the instrument of pain that deprives the Red Sox of their place in the playoffs. The Yankees play the Sox seven more times this season, Boston’s lead over Tampa Bay is back to being a mere game, and every Sox loss in which Rodriguez figures prominently will be a hot poker in the eye of fair play, at least as seen through the prism of a Boston partisan.

And naturally, after his home run, Rodriguez added a theatrical touch worthy of Iago, or more fittingly, Dustin Pedroia's wrestling pal, Ric Flair. With Fenway Park bubbling with bile, Rodriguez after circling the bases lingered at home plate, kissed his fingertips and pointed to the sky, a David Ortiz-like gesture calculated to infuriate, which it did.

But Rodriguez’s show of insouciance in the face of such naked hatred only seemed to galvanize his fellow Yankees, who punished Dempster for targeting Rodriguez by driving him from the mound in the sixth inning after a yield of nine hits and seven runs, the last three runs scoring on a bases-clearing triple by Brett Gardner. It was Gardner, coincidentally, who of all the Bombers seemed to take the most umbrage at Dempster making Rodriguez skip out of the way of one pitch, then drilling him with a 3-and-0 pitch aimed squarely at his ribs. The feisty Yankees center fielder was one of the first out of the dugout to express his objections to Dempster’s inflammatory act, one that had been anticipated ever since fellow Sox pitcher John Lackey publicly condemned A-Rod being back in uniform despite having been suspended 211 games.

The crowd of 37,917, of course, loved it. Yankees manager Joe Girardi, not so much, especially after plate umpire Brian O’Nora issued warnings to Dempster and both benches. That hardly squared with Girardi’s conception of justice, and he made that point with such vigor, he was ejected from the game.

“You can’t just start taking potshots," Girardi would tell reporters later, “because you don’t like the way the system is set up."

Dempster was allowed to stay, which given his track record against the Yankees (0-6 with a 7.57 ERA in 8 career starts), may well have worked in their favor. The Yankees went double, single, sacrifice fly after A-Rod’s plunking to produce two runs. Two singles and A-Rod’s ground-ball out made it 3-2, Yanks, in the third, and after the Sox kept whacking away at CC Sabathia (7 H, 6 ER, 5 B) to pull ahead 6-3, Will Middlebrooks impressively homering into the Sox's bullpen in the fourth, A-Rod’s home run was the first of five Yankees hits in the sixth.

Dempster made the obligatory denials: “I was just trying to pitch inside.” And his manager, John Farrell, adopted the obligatory stand-by-your-man stance: “I don’t know that he hit him on purpose. I don’t think he did."

Dempster strayed closer to the truth when he said: “I’m more disappointed in the fact that I couldn’t hold a 6-3 lead. That’s the bigger story right there. Guys go out there and score a bunch of runs off a guy like Sabathia, you gotta go out there and make pitches, and I didn’t do that."

And so it was left to the anti-A-Rod, the virtuous Mariano Rivera, to put the finishing touches on the Yankees' victory, more than four hours after it began. The Sox went home to sleep this one off before boarding a plane Monday morning for San Francisco. A-Rod? First, he signed a few autographs and did an on-field TV interview before returning to the clubhouse, where he uttered a classic bad-guy response when asked if he thought Dempster should be suspended for hitting him.

“I’m the wrong guy," he told reporters, “to ask about suspensions."

Then, like all villains, he disappeared into the night.