Ibanez walk-off gives Yankees 2-1 series lead
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
|New York Yankees' Raul Ibanez (27) runs in to score the game-winning run on a walk-off home run against the Baltimore Orioles during the 12th inning in New York, Oct. 10, 2012. (REUTERS)
NEW YORK - Yankee manager Joe Girardi stubbornly resisted making a move on Alex Rodriguez for as long as he dared.
Then, down a run with two outs to go and staring at a potential elimination game Thursday, he sent Raul Ibanez to the plate to pinch-hit for his struggling $29-million-a-year slugger.
Girardi’s timing was impeccable. Ibanez, 40, blasted the first pinch-hit home run of his career to force extra innings, then topped it in the bottom of the 12th with a walk-off blast into those same right field seats to give New York a dramatic 3-2 victory to take a 2-1 lead in this best-of-five AL Division Series.
Now it is the Orioles who are facing an elimination game tonight at Yankee Stadium.
“Sometimes you just have to make a decision,” said Girardi. “I went to Alex and mentioned that he’d been scuffling, that Johnson was a sinkerball pitcher and Raul is a lowball hitter, a lefthanded hitter looking at that short porch.
“Alex just said ‘Do what you’ve got to do.’”
Before the game, Girardi defended his decision to stick with A-Rod in the No. 3 slot in the batting order but his 0-for-3 performance, including his sixth and seventh strikeouts of the series, left him at 1-for-12 and persuaded Girardi to pinch-hit in the ninth.
All of New York is glad he did.
“I just felt I had to do what was in my gut,” said Girardi.
Before the move with A-Rod, Girardi had another tough decision to make when he pulled shortstop Derek Jeter, who had been hobbling since early in the game when he fouled a ball off his right foot.
“He has a bone bruise and that wasn’t an easy decision to make, either. Derek is the toughest player I’ve ever been around and he didn’t want to come out.”
The sudden late turn of events spoiled a magnificent night for three Baltimore rookies who had put the Orioles in position to go ahead in the series.
Miguel Gonzalez pitched seven magnificent innings while fellow rookies Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado each hit a solo home run to issue the O’s to a 2-1 lead going into the ninth.
But for the second game in this series lockdown closer Johnson got lit up for a ninth-inning home run. And then lefty Brian Matusz became Ibanez’s second victim of the night with his 12th-inning lightning bolt that ended Baltimore’s 16-game, extra-innings winning streak that stretched back to April 16. In all, Ibanez saw three pitches and two of them ended up in the seats.
Gonzalez gave up one run on five hits, walked no one and struck out eight, including four of the last five men he faced.
Baltimore drew first blood in the top of the third when second baseman and No. 8 hitter Flaherty smacked the first pitch he saw from Hiroki Kuroda into the seats in right field for his first postseason home run.
The Yankees responded in the bottom of the same inning. Russell Martin ripped a line-drive double to the wall in right field, then went to third on an Eric Chavez ground-out. Jeter worked the count to 2-2 against Gonzalez, then launched a high fly ball up into a stiff breeze blowing out to centre. Baltimore centre fielder Adam Jones started coasting back, blowing a bubble with his gum, then shifted gears into a full-out sprint when he realized the ball was carrying all the way to the warning track. The ball fell in for a triple that tied the score.
Rookie third-baseman Machado put Baltimore ahead leading off the top of the fifth, blasting the first pitch of the inning for his first career postseason homer that flew some 420 feet into the Orioles’ bullpen in deep left-centre.
Kuroda pitched an outstanding game himself, allowing five hits, a walk and the two runs over 8.1 innings.
Gonzalez, a 28-year-old refugee from the Mexican League, who was released after the 2011 season by the Red Sox organization and signed in March with Baltimore, has become as consistent as any pitcher the Orioles have.
In this game, Gonzalez held the Yankees Nos. 2-through-7 hitters to one single (Nick Swisher) in 18 at-bats.
“He does so many things that give himself a chance to be successful,” said manager Buck Showalter. “He fields his position, he holds runners, throws strikes. He doesn’t take anything for granted.”
Girardi considered moving Rodriguez down in the lineup but decided against it and explained his reasoning before the game.
“We played playoff baseball the whole month of September and the first three days of October and Alex hit third and we won a lot of games with a lineup that we kept consistent,” he said. “Guys knew where they were at every day, and I think there’s something to be said for that.”
For that reason, he felt that changing the lineup right now might be more disruptive to the entire team than anything.
“I trust our guys,” said Girardi, “and it’s important that they trust me.
“I think whenever you move a player, it has a chance, not only to affect the player, but it could affect the whole team, too.”
Not always in a bad way, as it turns out.