But, when Boston Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster hit A-Rod in the second inning of Sunday night's game, it seemed like the Red Sox had momentarily lost focus of the main objective: winning the division and making the playoffs.
Dempster missed A-Rod with the first pitch, throwing it behind the batter, and then came in with the next two pitches. When Dempster clearly drilled A-Rod with the fourth pitch, it seemed to signal that the Red Sox were far more concerned with sending a message instead of winning the game.
For a team with only a two-game lead in the AL East entering the day, it is really is hard to understand what the Red Sox and Dempster were thinking. Dempster in particular has been struggling for most of the season.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi was rightfully outraged by Dempster's actions and by the fact that the umpires only warned both teams, failing to eject Dempster for the obvious move. Bleacher Report's Patrick Clarke has the story here.
For a pitcher with average stuff, Dempster can hardly afford to act the way he acted Sunday night. You would hope a veteran pitcher would use his experience and realize it wasn't the time nor the place for hitting A-Rod.
Red Sox pitcher John Lackey was very vocal in his frustration toward A-Rod, as mentioned in this ESPN report.
Yes, everyone seems to be frustrated that Rodriguez is currently playing: the Yankees, MLB and almost every single player in uniform right now. But it is what it is, and it is a system the players have agreed to.
Hitting A-Rod seemed to wake up the Yankees, shaking them from their slumber and almost calling them to action, whether or not they personally care for all of the drama A-Rod's PED suspension has brought back to the team.
The Yankees seemed to be the team with their priorities in the right order, focusing on winning the game and dealing with revenge at a later date. It is telling that the Yankees didn't retaliate later in the game, but it is likely the Yankees will deal with it when the timing is better.
But the threat of retaliation seemed to put the Red Sox on their heels, waiting for the at-bat when they would dig in and get drilled by Yankees starter CC Sabathia. The Yankees ended up winning the game 9-6, captured in this ESPN game recap.
This was also a poorly managed game by Sox manager John Farrell when it comes to his pitching staff. Farrell left a clearly gassed Dempster in after giving up a leadoff home run to A-Rod to start the sixth inning. By the time he had made a move to the bullpen, he brought rookie Drake Britton into a bases-loaded situation with no room for error. The move led to a three-run triple by Brett Gardner.
The big picture for the Red Sox is that they took their eyes off of the prize Sunday. It was a game Boston clearly had an opportunity to win. With a daunting road trip starting Monday on the West Coast, Sunday's loss should leave a bitter taste in the mouth of all of the Red Sox players on the long flight.
If the Red Sox season comes down to losing the division by one game, or worse yet, Boston fails to make the playoffs at all, they can clearly look at Sunday night's loss and Dempster's performance as the potential culprit.