Score and situation: In a game that didn't pick up much steam until the ninth inning, the New York Yankees rallied behind the incredible power of Raul Ibanez to grab control of the series and put the Baltimore Orioles on the brink of elimination with a 3-2 victory in 12 innings on Wednesday night.
Leading lads: In a surprise pinch hit performance for the struggling Alex Rodriguez, Raul Ibanez delivered a clutch ninth-inning game-tying home run off Jim Johnson to keep New York's hopes alive. Three innings later, he became a Yankees postseason legend when he took left-hander Brian Matusz deep for a dramatic walk-off home run.
Perhaps motivated by Mariano Rivera's ceremonial first pitch, Hiroki Kuroda broke three bats in the first two innings and pitched an outstanding 8 1/3 innings. The only damage he allowed came on two solo home runs from Orioles' rookies Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado.
[Related: A-Rod pulled for Ibanez in ninth]
Head hangers: The life of a closer in the big leagues can't be all that fun. With no margin for error, Jim Johnson allowed the game-tying home run to Ibanez. That will make him the goat in some people's eyes. Matusz will likely draw that label as well after allowing Ibanez's walk-off. But the fact Baltimore's offense completely disappeared after Machado's fifth-inning homer is the real reason they lost this game. From that point on, Baltimore hitters were 1 for 24 with the only runners coming on a HBP and Robert Andino's single in the 10th.
Key play: Joe Girardi's decision to pinch-hit Ibanez for A-Rod — whose postseason average dropped to .083 with his 0 for 3 night — in the ninth inning may not just be a game saver, it could also prove to be a season saver. The Yankees were two outs from finding themselves on the brink of elimination themselves when Ibanez hit that frozen rope into the right field seats.
Interesting stat I: Prior to this loss, the Baltimore Orioles were 76-0 when leading after seven innings this season.
Interesting stats II and III: The home run from Ryan Flaherty was the first ever by a player born in Maine in postseason history. ESPN Stats and Info adds that it was also the first postseason home run ever hit by an Orioles rookie. Two innings later, Manny Machado hit the second.
What they'll be talking about: Of course Girardi's decision to pinch-hit for A-Rod will be the hottest topic. There's sure to be a lot of discussion about Derek Jeter's tag or nudge — depending on your point of view — that resulted in Nate McLouth coming off the base on his first inning stolen base attempt. Second base umpire Mike Everitt saw nothing wrong with the play and ruled McLouth out. Jeter would later exit the game after hobbling around all night due to a foul ball of the top of his foot in the first inning. His status heading in to Game 4 will be worth monitoring.
Adam Jones' ability to blow a bubble while chasing Derek Jeter's game-tying RBI triple in the third will also get some attention. The Orioles centerfielder actually misjudged the ball off the bat, taking an initial step in. That cost him his chance to run the ball down, but hey, he looked casual and cool while in pursuit. Just not as casual and cool as Pablo Sandoval when he made an over-the-railing catch while blowing a bubble.
What's next: The series continues with a do-or-die Game 4 for Baltimore on Thursday night at 7:30 ET. As of right now, the Orioles have yet to make their starter in that game official. We do know the Yankees will be turning to Phil Hughes as they look to advance to the ALCS.
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