With two swings of the bat, Raul Ibanez won Game 3 of the ALDS for the Yankees 3-2. Joe Girardi, in one of the ballsiest managerial moves in Yankee history, asked Ibanez to pinch hit for currently lost-in-the-woods Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning. The Yankees trailed 2-1 at the time, there was one out, and the needle on the season was edging towards “disaster.”
Ibanez took a curve ball low and inside from Jim Johnson to start the at bat. The Oriole closer came back with his trademark sinker aiming low and away. The ball hung over the middle and Ibanez leaped on it. It was a lot like his homer to tie game 161 against the Red Sox, but struck even better than that.
There was a whole a lot of tense nothing after that until Ibanez led off the bottom of the twelfth against lefty Brian Matusz. Matusz had handled lefties Eric Chavez and Ichiro Suzuki with ease in the eleventh, giving them one decent pitch to hit early in the count and then driving them out of the strike zone. He tried the same trick on Ibanez, but Raul had target lock engaged and destroyed the 91 MPH fastball for the game-winner and possible season-saver.
Enough cannot be said of Ibanez, Girardi, Kuroda and Robertson. Ibanez will get, and deserves, every headline and accolade, but he wouldn’t have had a chance in the ninth if it wasn’t for Kuroda. Ditto the twelfth if it wasn’t for Robertson. And of course Joe Girardi, who never gets any credit and often takes a ton criticism, especially on the internet, chose the perfect time to pull the plug on his support for Alex Rodriguez. With Ibanez he gained the platoon advantage and the confidence advantage as the lefty slugger had just come through in a similar spot against a right-handed closer. If Girardi has lost Rodriguez for the rest of the series, so be it. I’d rather be up 2-1 without Arod than down 1-2 with him.
Going back to the pre-Ibanez portion of the game, Hiroki Kuroda was tremendous. A likable stalwart in a season full of uncertainty, he delivered a solid performance into the ninth inning. Kuroda cruised through his night on only 105 pitches and only allowed six base runners. Two solo homers to the bottom of the order were the only marks on his record. Yankee fans gave him the ovation he deserved as he left the game.
As good as Hiroki Kuroda was, Miguel Gonzalez was better. He went through the Yankees for seven innings with ease. He rung up eight Yanks, allowed almost no hard hit balls (were there any other than double and triple that plated the Yanks’ lone run?) and crucially walked no one. He was too tough.
Or maybe he was just pretty good and the Yankees met him halfway to awesome. I openly wonder if the Yankees would have had a more productive night if they just never swung the bat. For three straight games now, they’ve missed almost every cookie they’ve been served with foul balls and pop ups. And they’re so eager to do some damage that they’re expanding the zone in very counterproductive ways. Of the eleven times the Yanks struck out in this game, all were swinging whiffs, and the vast majority were on balls out of the strike zone. The Yankees were over aggressive, undisciplined and rendered utterly ineffective.
Derek Jeter picked up two more hits, though his RBI triple was a gift from Adam Jones. He’s one of the few Yankees who might get a hit at some point tomorrow night, so it’s bad news that he had to come out of the game with a leg injury. He smashed a foul ball off his toe and never looked comfortable after that. When he struck out in the eighth, he was barely able to gain his balance after each swing. Still put on a better at bat than anything Arod, Cano, Granderson or Teixeira could muster. Unless that foot has to be sawed off, Jeter’s playing tomorrow. If they amputate, downgrade him to probable.
But back to Raul Ibanez. He just hit a couple of the most important home runs in Yankee Postseason history. He’s on the list. From the color TV days, there’s Chambliss ’76, Dent ’78 (not Postseason but still), Jeter/Bernie ’96, Leyritz ’96, Justice ’00, Tino/Brosius/Jeter ’01, Boone ’03, Arod ’09. Probably missing some, but that’s a pretty good start (Reggie and Matsui of course, but maybe that’s a slightly different list, and heck, put Ibanez on that one too with his two bombs tonight).
The lack of hitting in the Postseason always confounds me. I always think, “Why can’t this be the year where they just get hot and blast their way to the Series?” But it never works that way and I need to stop being surprised that Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez turn into the 1963 Dodgers as soon as the calendar flips to October. The difference this time, hopefully, is that the Yankees have the starters to support the offensive outage.
All three Yankee starters have worked into the eighth and two of them were still on the hill in the ninth! A timely hit in Game 2 and the Yanks would have just swept this thing. Phil Hughes gets the baton and it doesn’t matter who he faces. It’s gonna be Koufax, Drysdale, Alexander, Gibson and Schilling all wrapped into some Oriole schlub and Hughes will need to be his best to keep them in the game. The Yankees probably won’t hit, but they just might win.
Top Photo by Bill Kostroun/AP via ESPN
Other Photos by Alex Trautwig and Al Bello / Getty Images via ESPN