The boos did everything they could to drown out the organ. The notes still managed to sneak through, though, as if to serenade baseball’s superstar under siege.
At this point, the hissing and the catcalls were part of the soundtrack.
Whenever he steps into the batter’s box at Fenway Park, Alex Rodriguez awaits it.
Not even the venomous refrain of “You’re a cheater” surprised him.
Because of his place at the center of baseball’s latest performance-enhancing drug scandal, Rodriguez has become a bigger target than he already was.
To Major League Baseball, which suspended him 211 games (a decision Rodriguez is appealing).
To fans, particularly those at Fenway, who booed his every move for three straight days.
To his own general manager, who not long before the Yankees faced the Red Sox under the prime-time lights Sunday, acknowledged that he was uncomfortable talking to the man who is both his highest-paid and most highly controversial player.
And to the Fenway Park organist, who subtly underscored the boos that rained down with one song.
It was Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke (You Can Feel It All Over).”
Before the Yankees arrived, Red Sox pitcher John Lackey made clear his displeasure with the fact that he had to share the same field with Rodriguez.
But when he took the mound Saturday, Lackey went about his work without incident, holding Rodriguez hitless.
If Ryan Dempster had any opinion on Rodriguez, he kept it to himself.
That is, until Rodriguez was finally in his crosshairs Sunday night.
In the second inning, Dempster fired.
The fastball had a message attached, one that came without words.
Rodriguez understood it when he tumbled to the dirt, doing his best to dodge it.
But the one that dotted him three pitches later made it clear.
In 11 games since returning to the Yankees, Rodriguez had been hit before. But when White Sox ace Chris Sale did it Aug. 6, the intent was difficult to determine.
If Dempster had any intent, he masked it.
“I was trying to pitch him inside,” Dempster said.
Plate umpire Brian O’Nora quickly issued warnings to both dugouts, perhaps too late.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi immediately rushed out from the dugout, furious with Dempster, launching obscenities his way before being ejected by O’Nora.
“I was just trying to get focused and trying to get back to making pitches,” Dempster said. “I didn’t really try to get too caught up in it. Obviously [Girardi] was upset, but I just tried to get back and tried to make my pitches.”
Players from both teams poured from the dugouts and bullpens, littering the field.
For what it’s worth, Sox manager John Farrell said he understood.
“If it’s one of my players, yeah, I’m going to interpret it a certain way on our side as well,” Farrell said.
Still, Farrell defended Dempster.
“I don’t know that he hit him on purpose,” Farrell said. “I don’t think he did.”
Farrell conceded that not everyone would see it the same way.
“Everyone’s going to have their own view of the situation,” Farrell said. “Obviously Brian O’Nora thought there was intent to immediately warn. Again, I’ll go back and I’ll stand by it, he was trying to establish his fastball in. I didn’t think he was trying to hit him on purpose.”
Girardi saw it differently.
“People have had concussions, lives are changed by people getting hit by pitches,” he said. “Whether I agree with everything going on, you do not throw at people. You do not take the law into your own hands. That’s not how you do it.”
The plunking ultimately came back to haunt Dempster, both immediately and over the course of the Sox’ 9-6 loss.
He went into the second with a two-run lead thanks to Jonny Gomes’s sacrifice fly and Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s RBI single. But after dotting Rodriguez, Dempster gave the lead right back. Rodriguez would score on an Eduardo Nunez single and Lyle Overbay evened the game with a sacrifice fly.
In the third, Rodriguez grounded to short to drive in a run and put the Yankees ahead, 3-2.
The Sox tied it in the bottom of the third on David Ortiz’s ground out, then took a two-run lead in the fourth on Stephen Drew’s sacrifice fly and a homer to right by Will Middlebrooks, his first since his recall from Pawtucket.
When CC Sabathia walked Daniel Nava with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth, Dempster was propped up by six runs of support.
He couldn’t make it hold up.
Leading off the sixth, Rodriguez got a hitter’s ultimate retribution, hammering Dempster’s 1-and-0 fastball to center field for his second home run of the season (and 649th of his career, putting him 11 behind Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list).
“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 probably feels good. That’s just reality.”
That cut the Sox’ lead to 6-4. The Yankees took the lead that inning on Brett Gardner’s three-run triple.
Dempster left after 5⅓ innings, handing over a bases-loaded situation to rookie Drake Britton, who immediately gave up Gardner’s triple. The Yankees faced four other relievers and tacked on two more runs.
In eight career starts against the Yankees, Dempster is still winless. Moral victories don’t count.
“I’m more disappointed in the fact that I couldn’t hold a 6-3 lead,” Dempster said. “That’s the bigger story.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.