It was the sort of postseason night New York Yankee fans have almost come to expect from Alex Rodriguez after nine seasons in the Bronx: 0-for-3, two strikeouts.
Those were Rodriguez's numbers in Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday, Oct. 10. That performance left him 1-for-12 for the series with seven strikeouts and zero RBI; not quite what one expects from the No. 3 hitter in the batting order.
Two outs away from a stinging loss and a 2 games to 1 series deficit, Yankee manager Joe Girardi made the move of his managerial career. He pulled Rodriguez back and sent in 40-year-old Raul Ibanez to pinch-hit.
Ibanez ended the night as a newly minted Yankee postseason hero, joining the likes of Aaron Boone, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams. In the ninth, Ibanez homered off Orioles closer Jim Johnson to tie the game at 2-2 and in the 12th, he hit the first pitch he saw from reliever Brian Matusz into the second deck in right field (click here for video of both homers) to give New York an improbable 3-2 win and a chance to wrap up the series on Thursday, Oct. 11.
Ibanez made Girardi look like a genius, both for making the decision to pinch-hit for Rodriguez and also for using Rodriguez as the designated hitter. That made it much easier for Girardi to make a switch than it would have been if A-Rod had been at his usual post at third base.
But Girardi knew it could have gone another way.
"You're going to be asked a lot of questions if it doesn't work," Girardi told the Associated Press.
But after the delirium over Ibanez's homer heroics fades and reality sets back in, the situation begs the question: Will Rodriguez even appear in the lineup for Game 4?
The answer to that query is "probably." Rodriguez has been struggling against hard-throwing right-handers. But with Baltimore manager Buck Showalter opting to start soft-tossing lefty Joe Saunders in Game 4, it is likely Rodriguez will be in the lineup. Whether he remains in the No. 3 hole is a different question entirely.
However, if faced with another late-game at-bat against Johnson or one of the Orioles' other fireballing right-handed relievers, it's also likely that Girardi won't be as hesitant to hook Rodriguez in favor of a better matchup.
After all, the results sort of speak for themselves.
Phil Watson is a 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry and a longtime New York Yankee fan.