Mr. Oc-twooo-bre: Ibanez puts Yanks up 2-1

Mr. Oc-twooo-bre: Ibanez puts Yanks up 2-1

Mr. Oc-twooo-bre: Ibanez puts Yanks up 2-1
NEW YORK -- It started as the boldest call of Joe Girardi's tenure in the dugout, stripping the bat out of Alex Rodriguez's hands in a playoff game and instead trusting Raul Ibanez to crank one deep into the night.

It finished as the Yankees manager's most brilliant move, permanently etching Ibanez's name in franchise lore with two lethal swings of the bat.

Ibanez crushed a game-tying home run in the ninth inning and then blasted the game-winner in the 12th, lifting the Yankees to a stunning 3-2 victory over the Orioles in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.

"Being in that situation and being part of something like this, this great team, and obviously all the legends that have come before you," Ibanez said, "it's an extraordinary feeling and it's a great blessing."

Wild Card vs. Yankees

Handcuffed through seven innings by starter Miguel Gonzalez, the Yankees seemed like they were letting their October slip away until Ibanez recharged a sedated Stadium with his game-tying blast off Baltimore closer Jim Johnson.

Ibanez then finished the job in the 12th, still batting in the spot vacated by Girardi's scuffling $29 million slugger after Rodriguez's three hitless at-bats, jumping on the first pitch he saw from lefty Brian Matusz and punishing it into the second deck in right field.

"When that ball hit his bat, I turned and looked -- everyone just transformed into a 12-year-old," Nick Swisher said. "It was just amazing; everyone was so happy."

Girardi deflected credit for the move, which -- coupled with Coco Crisp's walk-off single for the A's against the Tigers later in the night -- marked the first day to include two postseason walk-offs wins since Oct. 19, 2009, when Jeff Mathis of the Angels and Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies both hit winning knocks.

"Raul had to come through," Girardi said. "Raul had some kind of day for us today, and you have to make decisions sometimes that are tough decisions. But I just had a gut feeling."

Rodriguez, who struck out twice in the No. 3 spot after Girardi refused to buckle to cries for his move down in the order, was in the dugout celebrating both of Ibanez's blasts and said he and Girardi both agreed to subscribe to the theory of "whatever it takes to win."

"Maybe 10 years ago, I'd 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."

Ibanez became the first player in Major League history to homer twice in a postseason game that he did not start, but his teammates had an inkling that the 40-year-old first-year Yankee was capable of such momentous feats.

On Sept. 22 against the Athletics, Ibanez homered twice in a 14-inning Yankees win after starting the game on the bench, and on Oct. 2 against the Red Sox, he hit a ninth-inning homer to tie the game before connecting for the game-winning hit in extra frames.

"He's done it all month and pretty much all year," Yankees catcher Russell Martin said. "Tremendous. What a legend."

Johnson, who served up his second homer of the ALDS -- perhaps just as unlikely as Ibanez's dual blasts, since the right-hander permitted just three in 71 regular-season innings -- said he'd somehow try to ward off a restless night in his New York hotel room.

"We've been getting great starting pitching; I just haven't pitched to what I've been doing for most of the year," Johnson said. "I need to step it up and help the team, because you can't lose sleep over it."

New York starter Hiroki Kuroda served up a pair of homers to rookies Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado over 8 1/3 sharp innings, and that appeared good enough to hold up as the difference with Gonzalez holding the Yankees to a one run on five hits -- one of them Derek Jeter's third-inning run-scoring triple.

"Gonzalez, he's been giving us fits," Swisher said. "We've faced him three times, and he's really put it on us. But talk about a great pitching effort on both sides; all the runs that were scored were home runs, and Jeet's RBI triple."

Even that came with a price; Jeter was hobbled by a first-inning foul ball that seemed to get worse as the game went on, but despite a bone bruise to his left foot, the Yankees' captain waved off the training staff until finally being forced to exit for a ninth-inning defensive replacement.

That put Jeter in prime bench position for Ibanez's shots, and even for Jeter -- who has experienced his share of postseason success, in case you've forgotten -- Ibanez's performance was "unbelievable."

"I don't know how he does it," Jeter said. "I don't know how you sit around all day, then come up and hit a home run, especially off the closer. Johnson's been outstanding all year and Matusz has been doing a great job. So it's unbelievable by Raul."

Teams taking a 2-1 lead in the ALDS have gone on to win the series in 16 of 21 previous occurrences. Combined with National League results, teams with a 2-1 lead in the Division Series have won the series in 33 of 40 previous occurrences.

That sounds good to the Yankees, who believe they just experienced a tangible momentum shift.

They are one win from advancing to the AL Championship Series, and with Ibanez not scheduled to start against lefty Joe Saunders, Girardi may once again have an opportunity to roll the dice with his new favorite pinch-hitter.

"We're talking about it now, but at some point, you just have to try to focus on tomorrow -- and tomorrow is another big game," Ibanez said.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.