Clutch hit a long-time coming

The Yankees waited all night Monday for a clutch hit and finally got it in the 12th inning from Raul Ibanez, the club RBI leader through the first five games with six. He can thank Orioles reliever Pedro Strop for speeding up his bat to produce the game-winning hit in the Yankees’ 5-4 victory.

How many times do you see it? A flame thrower simply throws the ball past a hitter, then tries to get cagey and allows the batter to hit a softer delivery. The Orioles challenged Ibanez, who pinch hit for Andruw Jones in the 11th and remained in the game as the designated hitter, by walking Curtis Granderson with Robinson Cano, who led off with a double, on third base and two out.

Ibanez couldn’t catch up to Strop’s gas and swung through two 95-mph fastballs. Then Strop got cagey and tossed up an 84-mph slider. You could almost hear Ibanez lips smack as he crushed the pitch for a ground-rule double to break the tie that had existed since the sixth inning. It was only the Yankees’ second hit in 18 at-bats with runners in scoring position in the game.

Hitting in RBI chances has been a problem for the Yankees in the early going. They are batting .189 in 53 at-bats with runners in scoring position this season. Cano had two doubles and a single Monday night but still has not driven in a run this year. Neither has Alex Rodriguez, who was 0-for-5 and stranded four of the Yankees’ 12 runners left on base.

Cano might have gotten his first RBI in the seventh inning when he doubled down the left field line, but a strong throw to the infield by left fielder Endy Chavez and a remarkable relay to the plate by shortstop J.J. Hardy nailed Nick Swisher running from first base at the plate.

It was something of a questionable “send” by third base coach Rob Thompson considering that Swisher had reached base by getting hit in the ankle and that there were none out with Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira due up. Cut Rob some slack, though. With only one RBI combined from A-Rod and Tex in 39 at-bats so far, who could blame him for forcing the Orioles to make a great play, which Hardy did.

Fortunately for the Yankees, the Orioles were even more futile. Baltimore was hitless in eight at-bats in the game and is 2-for-23 (.087) in those situations in the series. Only one of the Orioles’ runs was the result of a hit – a first-inning home run by Hardy – as Baltimore took advantage of two wild pitches by Freddy Garcia and an error by catcher Russell Martin for its other runs.

Mariano Rivera, whose blown save in the season opener set a sour tone in the lost weekend against the Rays, reverted to form with a perfect, 2-strikeout bottom of the 12th for career save No. 604, which gives the Yankees a chance to get to .500 Wednesday night at Camden Yards.

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