It is still weird seeing Ryan Dempster in a Boston Red Sox uniform. But the ex-Cub will forever be part of that bitter rivalry with the New York Yankees after hitting Alex Rodriguez.
The Cubs know that for all the Harry Caray/Will Ferrell impressions, media accessibility and charity work, Dempster still has a sharp edge and a stubborn streak.
Dempster won’t appeal the five-game suspension Major League Baseball handed down on Tuesday, telling reporters in San Francisco that shouldn't be interpreted as a sign of guilt.
Cubs reliever James Russell – who had been one of Dempster’s closest friends on the team – was sitting on his couch Sunday night watching the Yankees-Red Sox game when Rodriguez walked to the plate in the second inning.
The ESPN cameras showed the 37,917 fans jammed inside Fenway Park holding signs that said “PED X-ING” and “MOST WANTED.” Dempster threw four fastballs inside, the first one knocking Rodriguez off balance and the fourth one nailing him just below the left shoulder.
“There’s a different way (Dempster) could have gone about it,” Russell said. “You could tell a couple of those pitches kind of got away from him. But usually if you’re going to drill a guy, you want to do it on the first pitch.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there that would like to drill (A-Rod), just for the stuff he’s done and the attention he takes away from the good stuff going on in baseball right now. But, I mean, you can’t really take four cracks at it and not expect to have a little bit of repercussion from it."
Leading into that series on Yawkey Way, Red Sox pitcher John Lackey had told The Boston Globe that Rodriguez shouldn’t be playing while appealing a 211-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal.
Russell is an old-school pitcher. He was seven years old when his father, Jeff, saved 33 games for the 1993 Red Sox, a group that included Roger Clemens. Before games, he and his brother would shag balls and try to hit fungoes over the Green Monster.
Russell watched this scene with interest. Dempster had a two-run lead when he hit Rodriguez, who wound up scoring that inning, homering in the sixth and igniting a 9-6 comeback victory for the Yankees.
“You kind of hate that it kind of got him a little out of whack,” Russell said. “He ended up blowing the lead and that’s the thing I’m sure he’s most displeased with. (But) as a teammate, you kind of like it. As one of his friends, I kind of like it.”
The Red Sox have off-days coming up this Thursday and Monday next week, so a five-game suspension and a fine is nothing for Dempster, who’s 6-9 with a 4.77 ERA this season after signing a two-year, $26.5 million contract.
Dempster loved playing in Chicago and appreciated coming to Wrigley Field for work every day. He was generous with his time around younger pitchers like Jeff Samardzija, who would study what it takes to throw 200 innings, running Camelback Mountain together in Phoenix.
There was also the deeply competitive side, like when Dempster got into a shouting match with then-manager Mike Quade in PNC Park’s visiting dugout in 2011, while the television cameras were rolling in Pittsburgh.
That’s where Dempster flipped a cooler and threw a plastic bottle against the wall last summer, once manager Dale Sveum pulled him from a start after six innings amid all the trade rumors.
This time, Dempster took the fight to A-Rod.
“I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes,” Sveum said. “I don’t know (about) personal (stuff). Maybe A-Rod showed him up on a home run.
“You don’t know where they are (at). You don’t know the motive behind anything like that.”