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Bear with me while I connect the dots between Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees, the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Red Sox and the pennant race, the pennant race and the Yankees and the Yanks and A-Rod. If you draw enough lines, a clear picture usually emerges from a confusing situation.

By himself, A-Rod is not the problem. The Yankees slugger is one of the best players of all time. He has a .300 career batting average with 649 homers. He’s a three-time most valuable player, a 14-time all-star, a World Series winner. If it weren’t for the performance-enhancing drug scandal, he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

His greatness actually contributes to the problem. It prompted the Yankees to trade for him in the first place. It’s why they gave him a 10-year contract extension worth $275 million in 2007. He’s the highest-paid player in history. He’s a franchise player in terms of ability, a fraud when it comes to character.

Rodriguez goes to the heart of the PED scandal, the cage match pitting the desire to perform at the highest level by any means possible against a man’s integrity. Generally, when players choose the former, they compromise the latter.

Understand that lying is only part of the problem. If we suspended all the liars in sports, we couldn’t field a team and wouldn’t have anyone left to coach them. Players lie every day. They lie about injuries. They lie to reporters. They lie to management. They lie to themselves. They lie because they believe it helps them win.

Brian Cashman has so little trust in Rodriguez that he suspended direct communication with him. Cashman fears his words will get twisted and used against him in court. A-Rod doesn’t trust the Yankees, either, because he believes they lied to him. He thinks they encouraged team doctors to ensure his career ended last season.

But there’s yet another layer to a massive problem. The Yankees are trying to make a run for the postseason, and they need A-Rod the third baseman to help them even if it means tolerating A-Rod the person. They’re chasing the division-leading Sox, who were 8½ games ahead of the Yanks before they played Sunday night.

In case you didn’t hear, the Red Sox despise the Yankees. Boston has gone from worst to first in the AL East, a ride they enjoyed more while the Yanks slid down the standings and turned into a circus. And when the circus came into town over the weekend, the Red Sox figured they would join the show.

Enter pitcher Ryan Dempster, a mediocre right-hander for most of his 16 seasons and player representative in the players’ union. It’s the same union that negotiated the right for players, in this case A-Rod, to continue playing while appealing suspensions. Dempster, it appears, was suffering from a different internal conflict.

The union man in him watched Rodriguez step up to the plate Sunday, made possible while the Yankees third baseman appealed his 211-game suspension. The core of the man clearly had a personal issue with A-Rod and felt an insatiable duty to deliver a message on a national stage.

Whether his issue was with A-Rod lying and cheating in connection with PEDs or whether he took exception to A-Rod reportedly ratting out other players or whether he simply didn’t like him, Dempster had an agenda with A-Rod in the second inning Sunday.

His first pitch sailed behind Rodriguez. His next two were inside, off the plate. Finally, he carried out his mission and plunked A-Rod in the left elbow on a 3-0 count.

Message sent? Absolutely. Message received? Well, that’s not so clear.

And how did Dempster, while holding up himself as a man with honor, respond after the game when asked about his intentions? He lied. Of course he lied. Telling the truth would have led to a fine or suspension or both.

What’s worse was Dempster effectively turning Rodriguez into a sympathetic figure in the eyes of some, a hero in the eyes of others.

A-Rod refused to engage after getting plunked. He hit a long homer off Dempster in the sixth, starting a rally that gave the Yankees a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Rodriguez deserves no sympathy. He’s certainly no hero.

Dempster also invited the Yankees back into contention. He gave them something to rally around with 33 games remaining and captain Derek Jeter set to return.

He brought A-Rod and manager Joe Girardi, whom A-Rod’s representative claimed was partly responsible for Rodriguez playing while injured last season, closer together.

The only thing Dempster accomplished was making Rodriguez more defiant, more determined. Let’s not forget that Rodriguez, above anything else – his phoniness, cheating, refusal to say he was never, ever involved with Biogenesis – is a terrific baseball player.

And that puts the Yankees in an awkward position. They need him now but don’t want him later. They want to get back to the World Series and continue churning out the money that comes from the brand that is the Yankees. But they don’t want to pay him the remaining $86 million on his contract after this season.

If they wanted, the Yanks could end the madness today. They could release A-Rod. They could keep him off the roster and spare his teammates a distraction that will only get worse. And yet they will not because they would still need to pay him. They’re a better team with him, less marketable without him.

Navigate the curves, connect the dots and draw the lines. A picture emerges.

Here’s an illustration that goes to the core of the problem: $$$$.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com