"It's whatever."- Raul Ibanez - Mike Stobe
The second part of the countdown tracking the biggest contributors to Yankee wins throughout the 2012 season.
As I was saying about 12 hours ago using Baseball-Reference's WPA...
5. Mark Teixiera, July 13, 2012 vs. Los Angeles Angels, .560 WPA (2-4, 2 HR, 5 RBI)
First baseman Mark Teixeira might not be known for his clutch hits, but this is his third appearance on the Top 10 WPA list. The New York Yankees held a comfortable seven-game lead atop the American League East when they opened the second half of the season with a three-game set at home against the Angels. The Halos were underachieving overall in 2012, but maintained one of the best records in baseball after calling up phenom Mike Trout on April 28th. For most of the game, it was a pitcher's duel between Hiroki Kuroda and the Angels' big off-season mound acquisition C.J. Wilson. Erick Aybar hit a solo homer in the third, and the Yankees countered with a Derek Jeter single to right field shortly thereafter followed by a two-run roundtripper from Tex (who had just robbed second baseman Howard Kendrick of an extra-base hit)
The game stayed quiet at 2-1 until the seventh inning. Albert Pujols lined a base hit to begin the frame, Kuroda hit Kendrys Morales, and Mark Trumbo sent Kuroda's third pitch after that into orbit. It landed beyond the left-center field bullpen and gave the Angels a 4-2 lead as Trumbo continued his 2012 dominance of Yankee pitching (.467/.500/.1.167 with six homers in 34 plate appearances). Trout and Pujols both doubled in the eighth against Kuroda to give the Angels a three-run advantage. The Yankees came storming back once Wilson departed the game after seven innings of five-hit ball. Reliever Scott Downs carried a minuscule 0.30 ERA into the game, having allowed just one earned run all year in 30 innings. On this night however, Downs didn't have it. Jeter doubled to center field, Curtis Granderson walked, and Teixeira came up again hoping to hurt his former team. He slugged a three-run homer to deep left, knotting the game up at five runs apiece. Downs recovered to get the next two outs before issuing a walk to Nick Swisher. DeWayne Wise pinch-ran for him, stole a base on new reliever
Carly Rae Kevin Jepsen, and scored on a single by Russell Martin. Closer Rafael Soriano held the lead and the Yankees won 6-5. (Box score)
Mr. Ibanez had several big hits for the Yankees in 2012, and he had arguably their final hurrah of the season. The Yankees suffered an inauspicious beginning to the American League Championship Series by being shut out after eight innings. Facing Doug Fister, they stranded the bases loaded in three consecutive innings to begin the game, although they were robbed of a run in the second inning when first base umpire Rob Drake blew a call to end the second inning. The mistake cost the Yankees a 1-0 lead and a chance for Teixeira to do damage with the bases loaded. The Tigers instead grabbed a 2-0 lead in the sixth against Andy Pettitte on a bizarre triple and two singles. They expanded the lead when Yankee manager Joe Girardi strangely called on his lowest pitcher on the depth chart to relieve Pettitte, Derek Lowe. The righthander retired Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but eventual ALCS MVP Delmon Young hit a homer to make it 3-0. Lowe then gave up a double to Jhonny Peralta, and two batters later, Avisail Garcia drove him in against Boone Logan. The Tigers held a commanding four-run lead, so manager Jim Leyland brought in his closer, Jose Valverde.
"Papa Grande" had blown Game 4 of the ALDS against the Oakland Athletics, so Leyland was simply hoping Valverde could shake off the bad game. Needless to say, he did not. Martin led off with a line-drive single to center, and Ichiro Suzuki surprised the crowd with a two-run homer down the right field line to cut the score in half. Robinson Cano struck out to put the Yankees an out away from a loss, but Teixeira worked an eight-pitch walk. Ibanez was next, and he jumped all over Valverde's second pitch to tie the game up with a two-run blast to right-center field. It was his second ninth-inning, game-tying homer in four days. Sadly, this was the last high point of the Yankees' season. They missed an opportunity to win it in the 10th with Brett Gardner in scoring position and one out, and rookie reliever David Phelps had a rocky 12th inning that led to two Tiger runs (again led by Young, who doubled home Cabrera to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead). Jeter broke his ankle in the field and shortly thereafter, the Yankees went down 1-2-3 against Drew Smyly. They would never be that close to a win in the ALCS again. (Box score)
3. Raul Ibanez, October 2, 2012 vs. Boston Red Sox, .805 WPA (2-3, HR, 3 RBI)
The Yankees did not yet know their playoff plans, even after 160 regular season games since they were a mere game ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. If the Yankees lost to Boston and the Orioles beat the Tampa Bay Rays, the division would be all tied up going into the final day of the season. The Yankees absolutely did not want to risk being knocked out in the new one-game Wild Card playoff, so they had to take care of business against a struggling Red Sox team that still had not won its 70th game. Phelps got the start over the ineffective Ivan Nova, and he pitched fairly well, limiting the Red Sox to three hits and two runs over 5.1 innings (both runs came in the first). Although not on top of his game, Jon Lester did Phelps one better and worked of pitching jams to carry a 2-1 lead upon his departure in the sixth. Both bullpens were strong that day and held the score at 2-1 entering the ninth inning.
Soriano came on to maintain the slim one-run lead, but James Loney gave Boston an insurance run with a solo blast to right field. (Proven) Closer Andrew Bailey entered in the ninth to finish off the Yankees. Baltimore had already beaten Tampa 1-0, so if Bailey did his job, the AL East would again be tied up. Granderson got the Yankees off to a good start by lining a single to right field. Against the righthander, Girardi made the obvious move to pinch-hit Ibanez for Eduardo Nunez, who started at DH with the southpaw Lester on the mound. Girardi sought lightning in a bottle, and he got it. Ibanez slugged Bailey's 1-2 pitch over the wall in right field, tying the game at 3-3 with his 19th homer of the season. The Yankees had a chance to win the game with the bases loaded and one out against new reliever Mark Melancon, but Teixeira and Cano were retired to end the threat. A few innings later, the game was still going on in the 12th. Andrew Miller was on for the Red Sox and faced third-string catcher Francisco Cervelli with two outs. Banished to the minors on the last day of Spring Training in favor of the recently-acquired Chris Stewart, Cervelli had just one plate appearance all year prior to this moment. Undeterred, he worked a walk in a tough at-bat to put the winning run on base. Granderson took four out of the zone, moving Cervelli into scoring position. That brought Ibanez up at a major disadvantage since a lefty was on the mound. He made contact with Miller's second pitch though, grounding a single through the right side to bring Cervelli home with the winning run. The Yankees clinched at least a tie for the AL East. (Box score)
2. Raul Ibanez, October 10, 2011 vs. Baltimore Orioles (ALDS Game 3), .828 WPA (2-2, 2 HR, 2 RBI)
Although the Yankees' season ended in disappointment, Ibanez's performance in the third game of the Division Series will long live in Yankee lore. The Yankees and Orioles split the first two games of the ALDS at Camden Yards in Baltimore, and there was heavy pressure on the Yanks to win the third game with the unpredictable Phil Hughes on the mound in Game 4. The New Yorkers were frustrated for most of the night by Baltimore starter Miguel Gonzalez, who turned in a gem. Outside of a double from Martin and a RBI triple from Jeter that center fielder Adam Jones had a decent chance of catching, Gonzalez was nearly perfect in seven innings. Similarly, Hiroki Kuroda made only two mistakes in 8.1 innings of five-hit ball. Unfortunately, both bad pitches led to homers as light-hitting Ryan Flaherty and 20-year-old rookie Manny Machado surprised the crowd by taking Kuroda deep. The game stayed tight entering the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Orioles brought in closer Jim Johnson, who pitched well all year and led the AL with a franchise-record 51 saves. Johnson had struggled in the first game as the Yankees battered him for five runs in the ninth inning to break a tie and win the game, but manager Buck Showalter still had confidence in him. Ichiro lined out to start the ninth, and Girardi stunned the crowd by pinch-hitting Ibanez for Alex Rodriguez. Girardi sought lightning in a bottle with the man who had developed a propensity for game-tying homers. He got it. Two outs from falling to the brink of elimination, Ibanez tied it up with a solo blast to right field. There was pandemonium in the Bronx, but it would get even better. Three innings later, Ibanez came to the plate again, this time against southpaw Brian Matusz. Notorious for his struggles against lefties, Ibanez had not hit a homer against one since July 26, 2011. Nonetheless, Ibanez crushed Matusz's first pitch into the second deck in right field, giving the Yankees an amazing 3-2 victory. Thanks almost entirely to Ibanez, the Yankees were a game away from the ALCS. (Box score)
1. Raul Ibanez, September 22, 2012 vs. Oakland Athletics, .867 WPA (3-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI)
Yes, Ibanez himself comprised all of the top four Yankee games by WPA in 2012. He was simply amazing from late September on, and this was the game that kicked it off. The Yankees were in a tough fight with the Orioles for the AL East, and they hosted a scorching-hot Oakland team that was catching up on the AL West-leading Texas Rangers. The Yankees beat Oakland in a thriller in the first game against them since an embarrassing road sweep in July. They overcame a game-tying homer in the ninth by Brandon Moss against Soriano to win it in the 10th on Martin's second walk-off blast of the season. Little did they know the second game would be even better. Neither Nova nor Oakland starter Travis Blackley lasted very long in this game. Both were gone by the middle of the third inning and the game was tied at four in the fifth inning. Girardi started righthanded hitter Casey McGehee with the lefty Blackley on the hill, but with the southpaw gone, he could now insert Ibanez with righthander Jim Miller now pitching for Oakland. Ibanez came through with a pinch-hit homer to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead.
The advantage did not survive for long though--the Athletics tied it up again on a walk, a single, and a sacrifice fly from Chris Carter. Both bullpens were brilliant as the game went deep into extra innings. An afternoon game ran through dinnertime as a curious cast of characters that included Jerry Blevins, Ryan Cook, Grant Balfour, Evan Scribner, Cody Eppley, Joba Chamberlain, and Freddy Garcia kept the score at 5-5 after 12 innings. Further unlikely heroes Derek Norris and Steve Pearce saved runs for their respective teams with great defensive plays. In the top of the 13th, Garcia returned to the mound for New York after three surprising scoreless innings, and Oakland demolished him. Stephen Drew led off with a single and Jonny Gomes belted a two-run homer to break the tie. Yoenis Cespedes knocked Garcia out with a monstrous shot of his own to follow, and "third LOOGY" Justin Thomas also coughed one up to Carter. The Athletics had completely sucked the life out of Yankee Stadium with a shocking four-run 13th inning.
Pedro Figueroa entered to finish up the 9-5 victory for Oakland. Unfortunately for the Athletics, he ran into immediate trouble by loading the bases on three successive singles. Suddenly, the Yankees had the tying run at the plate in Nunez. Manager Bob Melvin brought in Pat Neshek, who uncorked a wild pitch to make it a three-run game. Nunez then lifted a sacrifice fly to bring home A-Rod, an acceptable compromise for Oakland since they were now two outs from victory with a two-run cushion. Ibanez promptly burned up that cushion with another game-tying two-run homer to stun the Athletics yet again. Two groundouts later, the teams were back to a standstill. Forgotten reliever Cory Wade did his job with a perfect 14th inning. Tyson Ross relieved Neshek and Eric Chavez singled to spark a rally. Melky Mesa made his big-league debut pinch-running for Chavez, moved to second on a bunt, and appeared set to score the winning run when A-Rod singled to center. In his hurry though, Mesa missed third base and had to return to the bag. The game continued, and Mesa was forced at the plate for the second out. Nunez then hit a ground ball to first base that Moss misplayed, allowing Ichiro (intentionally walked after the bunt) to score the winning run and give the Yankees an exhausting 10-9 victory. (Box score)
It can probably be argued that without Ibanez's late-game heroics, the Yankees would probably not have gotten anywhere close to the ALCS. Here's another tip of the cap to you, Raul--you had a helluva finish to 2012. Thank you.