Raúl Ibañez: a Yankee Hero, Homers in 9th to Tie and in 12th to Win Game 3 of ALDS

Yankee Stadium—Game 3 of the ALDS was a classic. The definition of the word for this story is taken from the 2012 book written by managerial great Tony La Russa, “The game has to have serious stakes. The competition between the two teams has to be both fierce and equal. The performances of individual players have to be of extremely high caliber. The outcome should be in jeopardy until the final moments. The action has to arrest your attention because of the brilliant, the surprising, or the unique nature of the performances or the personalities.”

The closeness in the competition between the Yanks and Orioles continued at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night when the ALDS shifted from Baltimore to the Bronx. The two clubs split 18 contests during the regular 2012 season. The teams also split the first two games of the ALDS.

Wednesday night’s contest featured an old fashioned pitchers’ duel between Miguel Gonxzalez of Baltimore and Hiroki Kuroda of New York. The rookie hurler for the O’s pitched with confidence and poise for seven innings. Only five batters reached base, all with base hits. His control was outstanding. Seventy percent of his pitches were strikes. No Yankee batter drew a walk, but Gonzalez fanned eight. The only Yankee run off him came in the third frame. Russell Martin doubled and scored on a triple by Derek Jeter.

Although his first appearance in the majors was May 29, Wednesday was his third start at Yankee Stadium. He earned a win in each of his previous outings in the Bronx on July 30 and August 31. He pitched a total of 13.2 innings, surrendering four earned runs for an ERA of 2.63.

Before the game, O’s manager Buck Showalter said of the 28 year old, “The guy does so many things that give himself a chance to be successful…We’re real proud of him.”

Kuroda accomplished what would normally result in a win. He pitched 8.1 innings, a mark he reached only twice in 33 previous starts this season. He also only gave up five hits, but two were crucial, a first pitch solo homer by Ryan Flaherty in the third and a solo first pitch home run by Mario Machado in the fifth. The two rookies showed no fear of playing in the postseason in Yankee Stadium.

In the pre-game press conference, Joe Girardi commented on the native of Japan, “I feel good about him on the mound because I’ve seen what he’s done all year for us.”

The Yanks tied the contest at two with one out in the ninth. Girardi removed the designated hitter, Alex Rodriguez, for pinch hitter Raúl Ibañez. The New York native parked the baseball in the right field seats to electrify the sell-out crowd of 50,497.

After the game, Girardi explained the decision that reporters called a genius move, “It’s a tough move. I just had a gut feeling about a left-hander who’s a low ball hitter. Raúl came up with some clutch hits; he’s been doing it all year. Sometimes you have to do what your gut tells you.”

The game ended in a most spectacular fashion as Ibañez led off the twelfth with a walk-off home run. The unbelievable event prompted Yankee starter Kuroda to say, “It seemed like it was something out of cartoon.”

Ibañez whose wife gave birth earlier in the month remarked humbly, “I’m a very blessed man. I have a healthy baby boy; my wife is healthy.” Of the two home runs, he explained, “I was just trying to get a good pitch. I was not trying to do too much. Fortunately, it worked out.”

In game 4, Phil Hughes will start for New York against lefthander Joe Saunders, who was announced as the starter by Showalter in a post-game press conference. If the Yanls win on Thursday they will advance to the ALCS.

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