A number of media narratives hinted that his ongoing story would distract the team from baseball, and the attention seems to have indeed changed the clubhouse dynamic entirely. After watching last night’s game, there was an apparent spark in the team once Rodriguez was hit by the Red Sox’ Ryan Dempster. Joe Girardi‘s exciting and impassioned rebuttal to Brian O’Nora, as well as Brett Gardner leading the cavalry out of the dugout seemed to jolt the team to two revenge runs in that inning. Of course, Rodriguez earned his own revenge with a home run, which was eventually followed by a come from behind win aided by Gardner’s bases clearing triple.
To say that the plunking changed the dynamic of the game is a bit subjective for me, but it’s hard to deny the energy that the players possessed. Rodriguez purposefully mimicked David Ortiz as he rounded the bases on his home run, and after each subsequent hit during the sixth inning rally, teammates would roar at each base as Dempster looked on at the mess he’d created.
Looking back just a few weeks ago, the Yankees looked dead in the water. CC Sabathia, one of the main culprits of this year’s floundering, has grown accustomed to weight questions, the injury assumptions, and tedious post game interviews. But after last night’s game, the majority of his interview was spent talking about where he was when Rodriguez was hit, what Sabathia thought of Dempster, and why there was no retribution. Sabathia pointed out that there was retribution. Rodriguez homered. The Yankees won.
And beyond the .319/.407/.489 slash that Rodriguez has put up in his 12 games, his greatest impact to this team may be off the field. The questions in the locker room are no longer about how poorly the team is performing. Instead, Alex Rodriguez has embraced his villain. In his post-game interview last night, Rodriguez was asked if he believed Dempster deserved a suspension for his actions. “I’m the wrong guy to be asking about suspensions,” he joked.
Behind all the drama, the Yankees are winning again, fans are watching games like never before, and the Yankees have become relevant again. Over a tough stretch of 10 games against the Tigers, Angels, and Red Sox, the Yankees have won 7 out of 10 of them. They’ve scored 56 runs and allowed just 38 runs in their last 8 games. They’ve gone from 10 games behind the Red Sox in the loss column to just 6. If this hot streak continues, the Pythagorean Expectation indicates that Yankees will win 89 to 90 games, enough to make a run at the playoffs and possibly the AL East.