40-year-old Raul Ibanez etched his name forever in Yankees’ lore, and Major League Baseball record books, when he launched two pitches high into the rafters of right-field –a game-tying homer run the bottom-of-the-ninth and the game-winner homer in the 12th inning – to rally the Bronx Bombers to a stunning 3-2 victory over the resilient Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday, giving New York a commanding 2-1 lead in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
Ibanez’s epic performance wasn’t the first time the middle-aged outfielder came up big for the Yanks this season. Call it déjà vu. He was already a hero to New York fans for his star turn on October 2, when he hit a game-tying, pinch-hit, two-run homer in the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox, and then knocked in the winning run in the 12th. The Yankees veteran also hit a game-tying pinch-hit home run against the Oakland Athletics on September 22. But the two homers he knocked out the park last night, carried more weight than his shots a month ago. This time, Ibanez, who went 2-for-2 at the plate, made sure that the Yankees hunt for title #28 stayed alive.
With one out in the ninth inning, Ibanez hit a game-tying home run off Baltimore’s closer Jim Johnson, and three innings later he finished what he started, smashing the first pitch from left-handed reliever Brian Matusz to the top of the right-field stands. The serendipitous play will forever be remembered for the luck lefty-hitter who delivered a pair of colossal home runs.
Yankees Manager Joe Girardi ’s gamble to insert a pinch-hitter, paid off. Before a sellout crowd of 50,497 at Yankee Stadium, Ibanez became the first player in MLB history to hit two home runs in the ninth inning or later of a postseason game. And according to ESPN Stats & Info, he’s the first player to homer twice in a playoff game in which he didn’t start. A lot of fans wanted former Yankee Johnny Damon on this team instead of Ibanez. Now, those same fans are thanking the baseball gods for delivering the veteran slugger.
At age 40, Ibanez is the oldest player to hit a walk-off homer in the postseason. He became the 11th different Yankee to hit a walk-off in the playoffs, and his shot was the franchise’s 12th postseason walk-off homer and the first since Mark Teixeira did it in Game 2 of the 2009 ALDS.
“It was a great experience,” Ibanez said afterwards. “We do it as a team. I’m blessed to come up and have the opportunity like that. We do it together. It’s about a team and about winning.”
With Orioles Manager Buck Showalter going on record saying he will not allow Yankees’ power-hitter Robinson Cano to beat his team, Girardi just might have discovered a new weapon to help lead the Yankees back to the World Series. Game 4 for the ALDS is scheduled for Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.
Who will come up big for the Bombers tonight?