‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
Remember when Raul Ibanez ended Spring Training 9-for-60 with a dismal average of .150?
As the New York Yankees’ regular-season schedule comes to a close on Wednesday, it feels like ages ago rather than the six months that have actually passed.
Faith shouldn’t be placed in small sample size Spring Training statistics. Any doubts over Ibanez’s ability were extinguished early in the regular season. On April 10, Ibanez delivered the go-ahead run with two outs in the 12th inning against the Baltimore Orioles.
Since that moment, Ibanez has settled into the Yankee pinstripes with ease.
The 40-year-old has figured heavily in Yankee comebacks throughout the season, despite playing a part-time role. He’s driven in 27 RBIs in 137 at-bats in the 7th inning or later. 10 of his 19 home runs this season have either tied or given the Yankees the lead.
Ibanez added to his collection of clutch moments on Tuesday night by delivering two hits that could prove crucial in the Yankees’ hopes of capturing their 28th American League East title.
He was called upon to pinch-hit for Eduardo Nunez with the Yankees trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the 9th. Ibanez stepped to the plate and delivered a line-drive two-run homer over the right-field porch, ensuring extra innings.
It’s not easy to be a Major League pinch-hitter. Many notable former All-Stars have struggled to make the adjustment from being an everyday player to the cameo role of being summoned from the bench in late situations.
That’s not the case for Ibanez, who has performed admirably in pinch-hitting situations for the Yankees.
“Raul is a professional hitter and he knows how to hit,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told the media after Tuesday night’s game. “He’s done pretty good in his pinch-hitting situations. If you look at what he’s done, he’s been pretty successful for us this year, and that’s why I went to him.”
The bigger moment was still to come in the bottom of the 12th inning with two outs. His seeing-eye grounder split shortstop Jose Iglesias and third baseman Pedro Ciriaco as Francisco Cervelli tumbled into home plate for the winning run.
Ibanez is the first Yankee in 39 years to accomplish the feat of collecting a game-tying RBI in the 9th inning and a walk-off RBI in extra innings. Before last night, Graig Nettles was the most recent Yankee to do so in 1973.
Cashman Deserves High Praise For Signing And Sticking With Ibanez
Let’s give Brian Cashman, Girardi and hitting coach Kevin Long credit for believing in Ibanez when some Yankee fans were calling for the organization to bring back former fan favorites Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.
A faction of panicky Yankee fans worried about Ibanez’s spring numbers and automatically assumed time had caught up with a 39-year-old batting .150.
It would have been an easy move for Cashman to appease the Yankees’ fan base by signing either popular hero of the 2009 World Series, as both were still lurking around as unsigned free agents on Opening Day.
Damon was released on August 9 after batting .222 in 64 games with the Cleveland Indians. Matsui only appeared in 34 games for the Tampa Bay Rays and batted just .147 before being released by the Rays on August 1.
Ibanez took a discounted $1.1 million contract to join the Yankees and it’s been an ideal marriage for both player and club.
The Yankees needed a veteran left-handed power bat, and Ibanez wanted to remain with a contending club after finishing a three-year stay with the Philadelphia Phillies.
With the Yankees needing a victory or an Orioles loss to clinch the AL East, Ibanez will soon have his chance to deliver on the playoff stage in pinstripes.
He’s going into the postseason hot with 4 home runs and 9 RBIs in his past 10 games.
Cashman and the Yankees’ front office should be applauded for finding an ideal, cost-efficient fit for their playoff roster in Ibanez.
Would the Yankees be where they are if it weren’t for the clutch play and professional hitting of Ibanez? Sound off below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.