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The Yankees were trailing going to the bottom half of the ninth, but a recent hero was ready to rise to the occasion two more times.
Nearly everyone has been hard on Raul Ibanez this season, and you could certainly make a case for the fact that it was justified at times. As of late, though, he's come up as big as anyone at the plate when the Yankees need a big hit the most. There was his game-tying home run to complete a four-run comeback in extra innings against the Oakland Athletics. The ninth inning comeback in the last series of the season against the Red Sox also featured an Ibanez home run to take the game to extras.
Tonight, down 2-1 with two outs separating the Yankees from a loss that would put them in an elimination game tomorrow, Joe Girardi put all his chips on the table and pinch hit Ibanez for Alex Rodriguez. The gutsiest of moves paid off, Ibanez sent a solo shot into right field off of one of the most successful closers of 2012 in Jim Johnson, and the Yankees were given an extended chance at snatching away an important victory.
Once wasn't enough, though. The extra innings went by pretty quietly except for some scary moments on defense by Mark Teixeira and David Robertson in the top of the twelfth. Ibanez had seen enough, clearly, because he led off the bottom of the inning with his second home run of the night. I wasn't sure that he could do it twice in one game, but I should really know better than to doubt him at this point.
Ibanez will be the hero, and Alex Rodriguez will probably unfairly be the goat (even though nearly the whole lineup is to blame), but the performance that Hiroki Kuroda turned in was a masterpiece of its own. His 8.1 innings were only tarnished by solo shots to Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado. Kuroda allowed only five hits, and really managed to shut down the opposing offense after the Machado home run put the Orioles on top. Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, and David Robertson all did their jobs to get the offense back to the plate quickly until Ibanez was able to come through once again.
The offense looked awful aside from Derek Jeter and Russell Martin, who combined to account for the lone run that didn't come off the bat of Ibanez. Unfortunately, Jeter was clearly hobbling around after his RBI triple tied the game and he was eventually pulled for Jayson Nix. Knowing Derek Jeter as we do, he will be in the game tomorrow unless they decide to amputate his leg tonight, but it's concerning that when so few of the batters are hitting well, one of them is unable to move around.
For all the clamoring to move A-Rod down in the lineup, there's really no good alternative for who deserves to be moved up at this point. The lot of them just look off their game right now, exemplified by the fact that not one of them was able to work a walk in the game. Without their patience, they look swing-happy and they need to get back to what makes them so dangerous if they are going to make it deeper into the playoffs.
Tomorrow, Phil Hughes will oppose Joe Saunders in a win-or-go-home game for the Orioles. If you needed a reason for why tonight's win was such an important one, there it is. I'm sure that almost everyone's blood pressure will be a little better off now that they won't have to endure a Hughes start with the season on the line.