Ryan Dempster's wayward fastball that hit Alex Rodriguez on Sunday night, a pitch few thought was anything but intentional, did something that seemed impossible.

It turned Rodriguez into a sympathetic figure, someone to unify behind.

OK, not in the eyes of MLB or a Yankees front office with which A-Rod and his attorneys are engaged in a full-scale, public war.

But in a clubhouse that privately, in more than a few quarters, was growing increasingly irritated with the daily deluge of the A-Rod drama, the hit-by-pitch accomplished exactly that, adding another layer to a story for which "surreal" no longer is an adequate characterization.

"I'm not sure how I would feel if I was on a different team," Brett Gardner said of Dempster's fastball in the second inning that nearly ignited a brawl and led to a volcanic argument and subsequent ejection from Joe Girardi. "But Alex is my teammate and obviously we're glad to have him back in the room and have him back on the field helping us win ballgames. It got us fired up."

The Yankees rallied from a 6-3 deficit in posting a 9-6 victory over the Red Sox to win their third straight series.

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After the game, the primary topic was Alex Rodriguez.

But in this situation, it had mostly to do with something that occurred on the field and not the verbal warfare between team and player.

For more than a few in the Yankees' clubhouse, Dempster throwing at Rodriguez crossed a line, a player-on-player crime not to be tolerated.

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"I think it definitely fired up the guys," CC Sabathia said. "A guy throwing at one player three or four times is never good . . . I don't think that's up to him [Dempster] to determine. Throw at a guy because he's going through what he's going through . . . I don't think it's up to Dempster to police that."

Among the first out of the Yankees' dugout was Gardner, who described himself as "mad" watching A-Rod get hit.

"How could it not get you fired up?" Gardner said. "I think it was obvious what was going on. We were able to come together, get fired up, he [Dempster] gave up seven runs and we got the win."

MLB was reviewing the incident Monday, an indication that a suspension for Dempster could be forthcoming. Girardi's hope was for Dempster, who denied intending to hit A-Rod, to miss at least one start.

"It has to cost him something," Girardi said.

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Those were among the more docile words the manager had for Dempster, whom Girardi said he "wished" got to step up to the plate in the game.

"He's hit six guys the last 320 innings, he doesn't hit people," Girardi said. "Everyone knows it was intentional . . . You can't just start taking potshots because you disagree with the way the system is set up. You voted as players . . . You can't take the law into your own hands."

In his postgame news conference, in which Rodriguez confirmed he was in the process of filing a grievance against the team for, he claims, mishandling his hip injury last October, the third baseman expressed gratitude for the support.

"That today kind of brought us together," he said. "Joe's reaction was amazing. Every single one of my teammates came up to me and said, 'Hit a bomb and walk it off.' And they were as [angry] as I was. That's just not right."

The most outspoken of Rodriguez's attorneys, Joe Tacopina, said Sunday night showed why his client can easily separate his battle with the front office from team personnel.

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"He loves his teammates, he loves his manager," Tacopina said Monday morning on ESPN Radio. "Last night was a real living example of how his teammates rallied behind him and Joe Girardi. I'm a huge Yankees fan. I have not seen Joe Girardi get that riled up in his tenure as Yankees manager and that spoke volumes on how they feel about this guy."