Raul Ibanez isn’t on many people’s list of Yankees postseason heroes, but the DH played a huge role in one of their most dramatic playoff victories.
It came on Oct. 10, 2012 in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Orioles.
Ibanez didn’t even enter the game until the bottom of the ninth, when manager Joe Girardi told him he would be hitting second that inning. The slugger initially couldn’t figure out who he’d be pinch-hitting for, but eventually realized he’d be replacing the struggling Alex Rodriguez.
“Alex is one of the greatest players in the history of the game so for a minute I just thought something was going on,” Ibanez said after the game. “I didn’t know what was happening. Then I tried to put it behind me and get a good pitch to hit.”
Rodriguez had broken a bone in his left hand in July and was bothered by a left hip injury that required surgery after the season. In September, he had just three homers and three doubles in 111 at-bats. The slump eventually led Rodriguez to seek out Anthony Bosch, his supplier of illegal performance-enhancers at the time.
Girardi has since called the move to hit for Rodriguez “the toughest decision I ever had to make.”
The Yankees were down a run to Baltimore with one of the game’s premier closers, Jim Johnson, on the mound in the bottom of the ninth. After Johnson retired Ichiro Suzuki for the first out, Ibanez came to the plate and crushed a game-tying homer on the second pitch he saw.
But Ibanez, who overcame a shaky first half that season with a strong stretch run, wasn’t done.
With neither team able to score after the ninth, the 40-year-old came up again in the 12th, this time against lefty Brian Matusz, Ibanez sent the first pitch of the at-bat into the right-field seats to win the game and give the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the series.
Afterwards, Rodriguez said he understood Girardi’s tactics.
“I love Joe and I am one of the leaders on this team,” Rodriguez said following the game. “Maybe 10 years ago I would have reacted another way.”
The Yankees went on to win the ALDS in five games, but Derek Jeter — who aggravated a foot injury during the ALDS — suffered a broken ankle during Game 1 of the ALCS against the Tigers. Detroit went on to sweep that series.
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