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Will the Yankees play beanball in the Bronx?

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  September 5, 2013 09:50 AM

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Who’s going down?

Logic would lead you to believe that David Ortiz would be the man to take the retaliation tonight when the Red Sox and Yankees meet in the Bronx for the first time since Ryan Dempster beaned Alex Rodriguez on four pitches, 12 games after the Yankees third baseman appealed his Biogenesis suspension last month.

But after picking up the win and becoming the ultimate Marcia to John Lackey’s Jan in Wednesday night’s 20-4 laugher at Fenway Park over the Detroit Tigers, Dempster won’t pitch in the four-game series against New York, which begins Thursday night. And really, the only revenge the Yankees could render against the hurler directly would be to shell him, which is pretty much called his next start anyway. Seven of Boston’s final 21 games come against the Yankees this season, with the Red Sox holding an eight-game lead on New York in the American League East, so they’ll likely get their shot at Dempster before the end of the month. Whether or not somebody pays before then is the question.

Ortiz, Boston’s biggest threat in the lineup, and now, Mr. 2,001, is the obvious guess, but the slugger may have done himself some good by distancing himself from the situation in the days following Dempster’s suspension. “We’ve got Tampa right on our heels, and that pitch woke up a monster in the Yankees team at that moment,” Ortiz told USA Today. “You saw how the game ended up. CC [Sabathia] was throwing 91 [m.p.h.] and started throwing 96. Alex later hit one way out there.

“You’re talking about a good team that you can’t wake up. But we learn from our mistakes.’’

Since that night, the Red Sox are a tidy 11-5, including an impressive 2-1 against the Detroit Tigers this week. The Yankees, meanwhile, are 12-4, including a 9-1 mark at home. It hasn’t done them much in terms of the division, where the Yankees have actually lost a half-game since the morning of Aug. 18, but it has allowed them to make up four games in the wild card standings, where they are in the thick of things, only 2 ½ games out.

Did the Red Sox wake up a “monster?” Meh. But the Dempster-ARod fracas may have given the Yankees some semblance of spark as they seek a playoff berth. And with a third of the schedule remaining against Boston, it would behoove them to deliver a message that they are not slinking away quietly.

Does that come in the form of Ivan Nova throwing at Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Will Middlebrooks Thursday night? Not necessarily. Whether it’s playing higher-than-thou or not, Yankees manager Joe Girardi’s comments that night: “That baseball is a weapon. It’s not a tennis ball; it’s not an IncrediBall that’s soft. It’s a weapon, and it can do a lot of damage to someone’s life,” it would seem somewhat hypocritical to turn around and lower yourself to your competition’s ways. Besides, as the New York Times pointed out:

In general, Girardi’s actions have lived up to those ideals. Since he took over as manager of the Yankees in 2008, the Red Sox have hit 67 Yankees batters, and the Yankees have hit just 49 Red Sox batters.

In fact, stretching back a decade further, to 1998, the Red Sox lead the hit-by-pitch matchup, 162 to 116, having hit more batters in their season series with New York in 13 of those 16 seasons. Twice they hit 18 Yankees batters in a single year. This season they have hit 10 Yankees and been hit five times in return.

This trend even holds all the way back to at least 1950. Since then, the Red Sox have outscored the Yankees in the beanball war, 337 to 264.

Sure, but take Matt Young out of the equation, and it’s probably close to even.

As Benjamin Hoffmann points out, if the Yankees do go after Ortiz, it would be monumental. New York has hit the DH only once in his entire career, a 2011 game in which Sabathia plunked him in the top of the fourth. No surprise thanks in part to Joba Chamberlain, but Kevin Youkilis is the Red Sox player hit most by the Yankees since 1998; 14 times. The Red Sox, in turn, have hit Derek Jeter 24 times since 1995. That only averages out to 1.3 a year though, so let’s suck it up a bit, eh?

"I don't think we can really worry about [retaliation] too much," first baseman Lyle Overbay told Newsday. "Because we look back on that Sunday night baseball game and I think Ryan put himself in a position to lose that ballgame. We can't afford that. But I'm not saying it's not in the back of our heads."

Back of the head? Sounds like a message to me. Ortiz better watch the [bleep] out.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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