‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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If not for the vital offensive contributions of 40-year-old Raul Ibanez, the New York Yankees wouldn’t be hosting Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday night in the Bronx.

In a tight, low-scoring series against the Baltimore Orioles, Ibanez was the difference maker when many of the Yankees’ main offensive threats shriveled.

Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher were largely anonymous against Orioles’ pitching.  Curtis Granderson finally showed up in Game 5, but Ibanez was constant force propelling the Yankees to victory.

The majority of ALDS games between the Yankees and Orioles were separated by one or two runs and the cool Ibanez delivered essential hits.  His dramatic, clutch home runs in Game 3 and go-ahead RBI single in the fifth inning of Game 5 filled the Yankees and their fans with belief at times when it was unclear whether the Bombers could muster enough offense to advance to the ALCS.

Ibanez finished the ALDS with a .444 AVG, 2 home runs, 3 RBIs and an OPS of 1.611 in 9 at-bats.

He will be even more important against the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS as the Tigers boast four right-handed starting pitchers.  Doug Fister will take the ball in Game 1.

Ibanez is a low-ball hitter who matches up well against Fister.  Detroit’s Game 1 starter relies mainly on a hard sinker that ranges between 88-91 miles per hour.

Anibal Sanchez gets the call for Game 2 and reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander is slated to start Game 3.  Max Scherzer is set to take the hill in Game 4.

In a never-ending parade of right-handed starting pitchers, Ibanez will be locked into the Yankees’ designated hitter role throughout the ALCS.

Nothing seems to faze Ibanez.  His 40-year-old eyes have seen everything there is to see in the game of baseball and is one of the most prepared hitters in the game.

Ibanez is “Captain Video” of the Yankees.  Much like Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn who was given the nickname for his intense study of opposing pitchers, Ibanez glues himself to the screen — deeply studying pitchers’ tendencies and movements.

The 40-year-old’s efforts in the weight room and batting cages go beyond teammates 10-to-15 years his minor.  It’s his preparation and ceaseless work ethic that keeps Ibanez playing at a high level after 17 big league seasons.

Whenever Ibanez delivers a longball in the stands, Yankees’ radio voice John Sterling booms over the WCBS (AM) 880 airwaves “Raul… so cool!”  Cool is exactly what Ibanez is.  Never fazed, never overawed, never unprepared.

Ibanez wasn’t around when the Yankees came up short in their recent playoff miseries.  Many of the Yankees’ heavy hitters wilted in last year’s ALDS elimination at the hands of the Tigers’ power pitchers.

Where others have failed, Ibanez is the one who holds the key to whether the Yankees will reach the 2012 World Series.

Will Ibanez be the key man for the Yankees in the ALCS?   Sound off below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.


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