NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Joe Girardi, so often criticized for relying his trusty stats binder, just had a feeling.
And it worked. Boy, did it ever.
Down by a run in an all-even AL division series, Girardi approached Alex Rodriguez and told baseball’s highest-paid player he was going to pinch hit for him.
Bold move, benching one of the game’s great sluggers.
“I just had a gut feeling,” the Yankees manager said. “I just went to him and I said, ‘You’re scuffling a little bit right now, we have got a low-ball hitter and we’ve got a shorter porch in right field then left field obviously — Raul (Ibanez) has been a good pinch hitter for us, and I’m just going to take a shot.’”
Ibanez homered in the ninth, then again in the 12th, rallying New York to a stunning 3-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night for a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five series.
“You’re facing one of the best closers in the game, you go jack city on him, then you come up for your next at-bat, and you go jack city again,” said outfielder Nick Swisher. “Damn, that was awesome.”
The slumping Rodriguez offered no complaint, telling Girardi: “Joe, you gotta do exactly what you gotta do.”
“I’m one of the leaders of his team. Maybe 10 years ago I react a much different way, but I’m at a place in my career right now where team means everything,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think there was anybody in the ballpark more excited for Raul than me.”
Injured saves leader Mariano Rivera went to Rodriguez in the dugout after seeing Ibanez head for the on-deck circle.
“I told Alex not to worry, that Raul was going to hit a home run,” Rivera said.
And Rivera was right next to A-Rod when Ibanez lined Jim Johnson’s 1-0 pitch into the right field stands. Rodriguez threw his arms into the air and then exchanged high-fives with Rivera. When Ibanez returned to the bench, Rodriguez was the first player to greet him.
“There was no one happier than me, one of the best performances I have ever seen,” Rodriguez said.
Yankees fans had been howling this week for Girardi to drop Rodriguez out of the No. 3 spot in the batting order. But Girardi was reluctant to move his fading slugger down in the lineup.
Until he took him all the way out.
“You have to make some decisions sometimes that are tough decisions. I just had a gut feeling,” Girardi said.
Rodriguez has 647 career home runs — he’s chasing the record of 762 by Barry Bonds — and is making $29 million this year. But was just 1 for 12 with no RBIs and seven strikeouts in this series when Girardi pulled him.
“It kind of caught me off-guard, hitting for a guy who’s half-a-billionaire,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said.
It was the first time Rodriguez had ever been pinch hit for in a postseason game, according to STATS LLC.
“Sometimes you’ve got to do what your gut tells you, and my gut told me to make the move,” Girardi said. “I still have the utmost respect for Al and I still think he’s a great player, he’s just going through a little tough time right now.”
Ibanez remained in the game and connected on the first pitch from Brian Matusz in the 12th. He became the first player to homer twice in a postseason game in which he didn’t start, STATS said.
Phil Hughes will try to clinch it for the Yankees on Thursday night in Game 4. Joe Saunders will start for Baltimore.
The Orioles had won 16 straight extra-inning games, and had been 76-0 when leading after seven, before the Yankees stung them.
“It was a great experience. We do it as a team. We stay after it,” Ibanez said. “I’m blessed to come up and have the opportunity like that. We do it together. It’s about a team and about winning.”
The brash, young Orioles appeared poised to move within a win of their first trip to the AL championship series since 1997 before the Yankees’ comeback.
Ibanez hit a 1-0 pitch into the seats in the ninth, setting off a raucous celebration in what had been a demoralized Yankee Stadium crowd.
Ibanez at first didn’t know who he was hitting for and was a bit startled when Eduardo Nunez told him.
“Alex is one of the best hitters of all time, and he still is,” Ibanez said. “I mean, he’s one of the greatest players in the history of the game. So for a minute I just thought something was going on, I didn’t know what was happening, and then I just tried to put it behind me and get a good pitch to hit.”
Where does Raul sit on the list of all-time clutch Yankees? Be heard in the comments below!
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