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The Yankees trailed late, but Raul Ibanez came through when it mattered most...twice.
The Yankees seem to be making a sport of turning a good number of their recent games into ones dangerous for the elderly and those with heart conditions. After easily breezing through last night's game, they were determined tonight's win would not come easily. For a while, it looked as though it might not come at all. Raul Ibanez had other plans.
David Phelps was as good as you could have asked him to be filling in for Ivan Nova. He allowed two runs on two hits in the first inning, which has proven to be where he struggles the most; but Phelps allowed only one other hit and two walks in his 5.1 innings of work on the night. He left the game trailing 2-1, thanks to some spectacular offensive failure that put people on base in practically every inning, but failed to push more than one run across. The usual bullpen suspects of Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, and David Robertson held the score where it was until Rafael Soriano entered the game. Something about those non-save situations and closers seems to fail far too often, and it did tonight in the form of a James Loney (!!!!!!!!!!!) home run.
It felt like time was running out for the offense, and knowing the Baltimore Orioles had already defeated the Rays in Tampa, the loss was shaping up to be a heartbreaking one that would tie things up atop the AL East with just one game left to play. Curtis Granderson singled to lead off the ninth inning and Girardi pinch hit Ibanez for Eduardo Nunez, who had driven in the Yankees' only run to that point. As if it were the Oakland game all over again, Ibanez promptly tied the game on one swing to right field. The Yankees loaded the bases with a chance to end things then and there, but a shallow fly from Mark Teixeira, who had hit into two huge double plays earlier in the game, failed to score a run with one out, and Robinson Cano grounded out to end the threat.
Fate was tempted in sending out Soriano for another inning, but he managed to work through it unscathed except for a walk to Dustin Pedroia. Derek Lowe would take it from there for the remaining two innings, allowing two hits and walk. With two outs in the bottom of the twelfth inning, Francisco Cervelli, who entered the game to catch after Eric Chavez pinch hit for Chris Stewart, worked a walk off of Andrew Miller to keep the inning alive. Granderson followed it up with a walk of his own, which brought the ninth inning hero to the plate once more. Ibanez singled into left, Cervelli made it to home plate just ahead of the throw. Yankees win.
The honest truth is that it should have never been that close. The Yankees managed to out-hit the Red Sox sixteen to eight. They left an army of runners on base. Mark Teixeira was the only starter without a hit and one of only three to not have at least two hits. Thankfully, none of that matters now. This was a win the team almost desperately needed to avoid the likelihood of a one-game playoff in Baltimore to settle the division, and they got just that. With the Orioles also winning, the lead in the AL East remains one game with one to play. A New York win or a Baltimore loss tomorrow would clinch the division title for the Yankees. Here's hoping that they take care of business themselves and don't require anyone else's help. Hiroki Kuroda will face Daisuke Matsuzaka with that goal in mind at 7:05 p.m.