Ibanez finished what he did not start
All that concern before Game 3 of the American League Division Series about where Alex Rodriguez was batting in the order obscured the fact that Raul Ibanez was not in the lineup against a right-handed starter. Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided to have Eric Chavez play third base and use Rodriguez at designated hitter and keep Ibanez on the bench.
Oh, man, did that hunch pay off for Girardi and the Yankees. Ibanez, who only eight days earlier became the first Yankees player to hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning and a walk-off RBI in extra innings in the same game, trumped that Wednesday night. This time, he not only homered to tie the score in the ninth but also in the 12th to win it.
This one will have the Elias Sports Bureau researchers up all night in their Fifth Avenue office trying to determine if what Ibanez did in the Yankees’ 3-2 victory over the Orioles was unprecedented in the history of postseason play. My guess is they will discover that the answer is yes. We already know that Ibanez is the first player to hit two home runs in a postseason game that he did not start.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter had identified Ibanez as a threat off the bench he had hoped to avoid when discussing his late-inning pitching maneuvers in Game 2. Ibanez’s performance in Game 3 justified Showalter’s concern. Ibanez, pinch hitting for A-Rod yet, sent the game into extras with a ninth-inning home run off Orioles closer Jim Johnson, whom the Yankees continue to rough up.
The Yankees mugged Johnson for five runs in the ninth inning of Game 1 at Baltimore in a non-save situation. This time it was a blown save for Johnson, the major-league leader in saves with 51 in the regular season.
Ibanez’s drive into the right field stands off a 1-0 fastball (at 94 miles per hour, no less) took a potential losing decision away from Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda, who deserved a better fate after allowing only two runs (on solo homers by Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado, the O’s 8-and 9-hole hitters) in 8 1/3 strong innings. Ibanez was the Yankees’ best pinch hitter this season with a .320 average, two home runs and seven RBI in 25 at-bats and kept that distinction intact with Wednesday night’s feat.
Not even having to face a lefthander, Brian Matusz, fazed Ibanez in the 12th. He didn’t even wait as he swung at the first pitch – a 91-mph cut fastball – and thrust the Yankees into a 2-games-to-1 lead in the best-of-5 series.
Pinch hitting for Rodriguez was a gutty decision for Girardi, although one that could hardly have been second-guessed. A-Rod was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game and is 1-for-12 (.083) with seven punchouts in the series. Ibanez is now 3-for-5 (.600) with two home runs in the ALDS.
Girardi looked at Ibanez the way Casey Stengel once did at Johnny Mize and Joe Torre once did at Darryl Strawberry. Mize and Strawberry were left-handed sluggers whose aim at the cozy right-field porch at Yankee Stadium gave many opposing managers cause for alarm, the same feeling Showalter had when thinking about Ibanez.
As unusual as it was to see Derek Jeter sitting in the Yankees dugout as his teammates took the field in the ninth inning, the more amazing aspect was that he was able to play at all after the third inning. The Captain aggravated a nagging bone bruise in his left ankle running out a triple in the bottom of that inning.
He gutted his way through the eighth before Girardi decided to keep a hobbling player on the field was too great a risk in what was then a one-run game. In his eighth-inning at-bat, Jeter nearly fell down when landing on his left ankle on the follow-through of a swing and miss.
The startling finish was something the Orioles are not accustomed to. Extra innings have been joyful ones for the Orioles, who had won 16 consecutive such games before Wednesday night. The only two extra-inning games Baltimore lost in the regular season were against the Yankees on back-to-back nights April 10 and 11 at Camden Yards.
In the April 10 game, the deciding hit was a two-run double by Raul Ibanez.