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Ibanez saves Yankees again with tying, winning homers

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- The manager known for robotically following his "binder" full of stats took one of the biggest gambles in postseason history because, he would say later, it was a "gut feeling."

That gut feeling, as well as the guts to follow through on it by New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, helped his team pull off a wild 3-2, 12-inning victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

Girardi sent Raul Ibanez up in the ninth to pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez, one of the greatest hitters of all time, and Ibanez rewarded his manager's faith with a game-tying home run in the ninth and the game-winning shot in the 12th.

In the process, the Yankees took a 2-1 advantage in the ALDS after being just two outs from trailing by the same margin. They can earn a trip to the American League Championship Series with a win Thursday night.

"Yeah, of course you do," a drained but relieved Girardi said when asked if he couldn't believe he was pinch-hitting for Rodriguez. "And you know you're going to be asked a lot of questions if it doesn't work. As I said, Raul came up with some clutch hits, and he's been doing it all year for us.

"I mean, it's a tough move," Girardi later added. "Sometimes you've got to do what your gut tells you, and my gut told me to make the move."

The Orioles, who had won 16 straight extra-inning games before Wednesday, lost two all year before that, both to the Yankees. They will turn to Joe Saunders to start Game 4 in the hopes of extending their season -- manager Buck Showalter announced he was the choice instead of Chris Tillman because he had recently pitched in a similar do-or-die spot.

"I've got no knot in my stomach," Showalter said when asked if he did following the gut-wrenching loss. "Why not? Is that what I'm supposed to do? Is that what the conventional thinking is? Well, they may. We don't live in that world."

The Yankees will try to wrap up the series with Phil Hughes on the mound. Derek Jeter, who left the game after the eighth because of a bone bruise on the top of his foot, unrelated to an earlier similar injury, insisted he "will play."

Before the game, Girardi had decided to stick with Rodriguez in the third spot in the order, when several fans and media called for the struggling slugger to get dropped in the lineup. But as the boos mounted and Rodriguez went 0-for-3 to make him 1-for-12 in the series, Girardi started trying to figure out a way to score some runs.

Orioles rookie starter Miguel Gonzalez had been brilliant, holding the Yankees to one run on five hits in seven innings, and Darren O'Day had pitched a perfect eighth. Manny Machado and Ryan Flaherty had homered off of Hiroki Kuroda, who otherwise was just as good as Gonzalez, giving up just those two runs in 8 1/3 innings.

Ibanez had hit two home runs in an epic 14-inning win over the Oakland A's in September, tying the game with a two-run shot in the 13th, and also hit a key, late homer against the Boston Red Sox in the season's final week as the Yankees battled for the East title.

So, Girardi started thinking about how Ibanez had been so clutch and how Orioles closer Jim Johnson is a low-ball pitcher and Ibanez is a low-ball hitter.

He told Rodriguez he was pinch-hitting for him and A-Rod, who later said he didn't remember being pinch-hit for in such a spot since high school, told his manager to do what he had to do.

"No, no, no, I love Joe," Rodriguez said when asked if the move could cause a rift like the one between Rodriguez and former Yankees manager Joe Torre, who infamously dropped A-Rod to eighth in the lineup in a postseason game. "... Maybe 10 years ago, I react in a much different way. ... I was on the top step cheering."

Ibanez didn't know what to make of the situation, at first thinking something was wrong with Rodriguez. But then he said he tried to push the thoughts out of his head and just hit, staying "in the moment" as he had through his other late game moments in the spotlight.

The 40-year-old veteran did it again Wednesday, drilling a 1-0 pitch from Johnson over the wall in right-center. Yankee Stadium, quiet for most of the night, as Gonzalez shut down the Yankees on five hits, roared.

The fans would scream even louder for Ibanez three innings later when he drove the first pitch he saw from Brian Matusz (0-1) over the wall in right for the game-winning homer.

"It's been great," Ibanez said of his recent magical run, which included the birth of his son on the day the Yankees clinched the AL East. "I'm a very blessed man."

David Robertson (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.

The Orioles threatened in the top of the 10th inning as Robert Andino led off with a single against Yankees closer Rafael Soriano. But after Machado bunted Andino to second, Nate McLouth hit a liner to shortstop Jayson Nix, who doubled up Andino at second to end the inning.

The Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third on Flaherty's homer to right, which landed a few rows in. The Yankees answered in the bottom of the inning when Russell Martin doubled and Jeter hit his two-out triple over Adam Jones' glove on a play that could haunt the Orioles' center fielder.

The ball carried over the head of Jones, who blew a bubble while in pursuit, and just out of reach of his outstretched glove.

NOTES: Eric Chavez, who was 3-for-6 entering the game against Gonzalez, started at third base with Rodriguez moving to DH. ... Before the game, Jeter declined to discuss Pete Rose's comments to Sports on Earth, in which baseball's all-time hit king said he didn't think Jeter could catch him. ... Injured Yankees closer Mariano Rivera threw out the ceremonial first pitch, with his entrance music "Enter Sandman" serving as his only introduction.
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