Joe Girardi understands this perfectly.
Going against batting stats from the regular season, the Yankees skipper inserted Raul Ibanez, Game 3’s pinch-hitting walk-off hero, into the DH slot for Game 5.
Ibanez, hitting .500 this postseason with two home runs in only six at-bats, came into Friday’s game with a meager .217 batting average and .280 on-base percentage against Orioles starter Jason Hammel, but Girardi’s decision proved to be a wise one as Ibanez gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead with an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Eric Chavez, in to replace the struggling Alex Rodriguez at third base, did not have a great night offensively, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.
Though A-Rod’s career numbers versus Hammel are actually quite good -- .333 AVG, .448 OBP, .833 slugging percentage in 24 at-bats -- the infamous Yankees third baseman has struggled greatly this postseason, going 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts and 0-for-12 against right-handers in the series.
Rodriguez still has five years and $114-million remaining on his contract with the Yankees. We’ll just have to see if the 37-year-old can prove his worth in the ALCS. If Girardi plays him, that is.
A CASE FOR INSTANT REPLAY?
One of the most contested issues in baseball over the last few years has been the possibility of expanding the use of instant replay, but what happens if even that proves inconclusive?
Friday night’s game offered one such example.
In the sixth inning, down by one run, Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth hit a line drive into the seats beyond the right-field wall that was immediately ruled a foul ball. After a protest from Baltimore skipper Buck Showalter, the umpiring crew ducked into the replay booth, reviewed the play and confirmed their decision.
The replays, once zoomed in, showed a ball that seemed to change its trajectory in mid-air, leading some to conclude that it must have nicked the foul pole and should have been ruled a home run.
If the ruling had gone in Baltimore’s favour, the game would have been tied.
So, should baseball bother to expand the instant replay rules to include other plays knowing that the human element will never completely disappear?
The debate lives on.
STEPPING UP THE OFFENCE
Yankees centre fielder Curtis Granderson entered Game 5 with a 1-for-16 record against the Orioles in the ALDS. He left the series finale with two more hits, including a home run.
Granderson’s 2-for-3 night may be a good sign for the Yankees as they head into the ALCS against Detroit.
With reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander at the helm of a Tigers rotation that includes Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, the Yankees will need to rejuvenate their bats to get through one of the best pitching staffs in the post-season.
Granderson had a good night at the plate, but many of his teammates will be hoping to turn things around before Saturday’s game. Among those most in need of an offensive boost is right fielder Nick Swisher, who finished the ALDS with only two hits in 18 at-bats.
This Yankees team lost last year’s AL Division Series to the Tigers in five games. Can they beat them this time around?
My prediction: Detroit takes it in six games.
A WORD ON THE LOSERS
How did they do it?
How did Buck Showalter’s motley crew of ball players make it all the way to Game 5 against the Yankees? How did they challenge a team with a $195-million payroll (more than $100-million more than their own)?
The Orioles’ team batting average in 2012 was .247 compared to the Yankees’ .265. New York scored 804 runs total while holding their opponents to 668. Baltimore scored 712 runs and allowed 705. The
Yankees hit 245 home runs; Baltimore hit 214. These figures don’t offer an explanation for their success.
Pitching, of course, had a lot to do with it. The Orioles’ bullpen was among the strongest in the majors, with closer Jim Johnson racking up a league-leading 51 saves.
The O’s also received huge contributions from unexpected sources throughout the season, including 19-year-old rookie third baseman Manny Machado, who picked up 50 hits in 51 games and hit a 12th-inning double to start Baltimore’s winning rally in Game 4.
Regardless of how they did it, this relentless 2012 Orioles squad battled with the Yankees for first place in the American League East for much of the regular season, never trailing New York by more than one game from Sept. 2 on. Baltimore battled hard throughout the ALDS to force a deciding Game 5.
Despite their resiliency, however, Baltimore was never quite able to leapfrog the Yankees in the standings, and they could never take the lead in the series.
The margin may have been thin, but New York proved to be the better team.