With just two swings of the bat in Game 3 of the ALDS, slugger Raul Ibañez turned in one of the greatest performances in postseason history and entered the immortal pantheon of New York Yankees folklore.
And he didn't even enter the game until the ninth inning! Pretty effective for a 40-year-old who many said was a mistake for the Yankees to sign in the first place.
Ibañez came off the bench to sub for slumping Alex Rodriguez, hitting a pinch-hit solo home run in the bottom of the ninth to tie the score, then stayed in to hit a winning homer in the 12th, leading the Yankees to a stunning 3-2 victory against the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees lead the series 2-1 and can clinch with a victory Thursday or Friday, if necessary.
Ibañez saw a grand total of three pitches, connecting on two — against closer Jim Johnson in the ninth, and lefty Brian Matusz in the 12th. Ibañez told TBS broadcaster Craig Sager he was taking swings in the cage when he got the word he was coming in for Rodriguez, who was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and is hitting .083 in the series. Yankees manager Joe Girardi had been pressured by fans (notably Donald Trump) and probably media to drop A-Rod in the order from the third spot. Rodriguez stayed, hitting in the usual place — until Girardi pulled him from the game for Ibañez.
A-Rod was among the first to congratulate him after his first homer:
"He just said, 'Great job.' And you know, A-Rod's a great teammate and a great team player," Ibañez said. "He's the first one on the top step congratulating you. And like I said, it's about winning. It's about the Yankees."
Ibañez had been to the playoffs four times before, with the Mariners in 2000 and with the Phillies, in 2009, 2010 and 2011. His results (.233/.287/.375 with three homers in 129 plate appearances) were a mixed bag. He had a solid season for the Yankees, improving his on-base and slugging percentages over his 2011 stats, adding 19 homers in 425 plate appearances.
Most notably, he helped the Yanks win the AL East (and avoid the wild card game) by turning in a clutch performance Oct. 2 against the Red Sox. Ibañez homered in the ninth inning of that game to tie the score and won it in the 12th with an RBI single.
Without that, who knows if the Yankees even get to this point?