This was shaping up to be a very bad night. The Yankees looked lifeless for the first eight innings of Game Three and were two outs away from a 2-1 series deficit … but Raul Ibanez. Baseball has a way of making your jaw drop, and Ibanez provided not one, but two jaw-dropping moments on Wednesday night.
There Is Only One #HIROKtober
As hideous as the offense has been, the Yankees have been getting some absolutely stellar work from their pitching staff this series. Hiroki Kuroda followed the lead of CC Sabathia (8.2 innings and two runs in Game One) and Andy Pettitte (seven innings and three runs in Game Two) with 8.1 strong innings in Game Three, allowing just two solo homers and five total hits. Both homers came on first pitch sliders, the first by number eight hitter Ryan Flaherty in the third and the second by number nine hitter Manny Machado in the fifth. Machado hit a hanger up in the zone, but the pitch to Flaherty wasn’t bad at all. It was at the knees and he golfed it out.
Outside of the two homers, Kuroda was pretty dynamite. He pitched out of a defense-created bases loaded jam in the fourth and retired 12 of the final 13 men he faced after Machado’s dinger. Command, especially of the splitter, was a bit of an issue early on, but Kuroda figured things out later on and wound up throwing 65 of his 105 pitches were strikes (62%). That’s usually nothing special, but after the first few innings it was pretty damn good. All told, the Yankees have gotten a 2.63 ERA out of their top three starters in the series. These guys have been brilliant and it seems to be flying under the radar.
Mr. Big Hit
The Yankees plated their first run in the third inning, when Derek Jeter tripled in Russell Martin with two outs. Center fielder Adam Jones deserves a huge assist for the play, I have no idea what the hell he was doing going after the ball. That ball was very catchable and Jones just seemed to be moving in slow motion as he went back to the wall. Whatever, I’m not complaining.
Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez stymied the Yankees after that though, as he retired 13 of the final 15 batters he faced following the triple. After pitching very well in Yankee Stadium during the regular season, the 28-year-old rookie carried it over into the playoffs and held the Bombers to just the one run in seven innings with his fastball-changeup-slider mix. He pitched very well and deserves some credit, but the Yankees looked rather feeble at times.
After Darren O’Day breezed through the eighth inning, closer Jim Johnson entered the game in the ninth and promptly retired Ichiro Suzuki on a fly ball to left. Alex Rodriguez, 0-for-3 with two strikeouts on the night and 1-for-13 with seven strikeouts in the series, was due up next, but Joe Girardi instead pinch-hit with Ibanez. There’s been a lot of talk about moving A-Rod down in the lineup given his lack of production, but the skipper again batted him third to start the game. Down a run with two outs to play, Girardi said told Alex he had been struggling and he wanted to give Raul a shot with the short porch. “My gut told me to make the move … (it) was the best thing to do,” said Joe after the game.
Just like Martin in Game One, Johnson fell behind in the count to Ibanez and left a sinker up the zone. Raul did what he does best, and lately that’s been come up with enormous homers. He tied a game in the 13th inning against the Athletics three weeks ago, tied a game against the Red Sox last week, and tied up Game Three of the ALDS with a solo shot to right. It wasn’t hit particularly deep but it wasn’t a Yankee Stadium cheapie either. The game was tied and the first one to greet Raul with a high five in the dugout was A-Rod. I love and hate that guy so much.
Beat Them At Their Own Game
The Orioles have been lauded for their dominant bullpen all season and rightfully so, as their relief corps have been nailing down one-run wins since Opening Day. The Yankees turned the tables a bit on Wednesday, as three relievers — Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, and David Robertson — combined to allow just two baserunners in 3.1 innings of work following Kuroda. Logan struck out the only man he faced (Jim Thome), Rafael Soriano finished the ninth and handled the tenth, then David Robertson tossed up zeroes in the 11th and 12th. It’ll be long forgotten come the morning, but the bullpen deserves major props for holding down the fort.
Just Get It To Raul
“Just get it to A-Rod” is a phrase I’ve muttered many, many times through the years whenever the Yankees were losing in the late innings. Just get Alex another at-bat and he could make it alright with one swing. After being lifted in Game Three — A-Rod joked after the game that it was the first time he was pinch-hit for since high school, and I can only assume that coach was fired soon thereafter — things had shifted to “just get it to Raul.”
The bullpen allowed Ibanez to come to bat again in the 12th, an inning he led off against the left-hander Brian Matusz. I’ve been crushing Girardi for leaving Ibanez in against tough southpaws in the late innings of tight games all season, but I am very glad to look like an idiot now. Raul hammered the first pitch of the inning, a high fastball on the outer third, into the second deck in right for a walk-off solo homer. You could see his True Yankee™ wings sprout as he rounded the bases with Yankee Stadium rocking and his teammates waiting at home plate.
At +.827 WPA, Ibanez just had the fifth biggest playoff game in baseball history, and all he saw was three pitches in two at-bats. He also became the first player in baseball history to homer twice in a playoff game he didn’t start. That goes back to 1903. The Orioles had gone 76-0 when leading after seven innings during the regular season, so this was their first loss of 2012 in those situations. Baltimore is also 0-3 against the Yankees in extra innings this year and 16-0 against everyone else. Ibanez made some big things happen in Game Three. Big, big things.
The Yankees only had seven baserunners in the 12 innings … well, eleven innings and one batter. Jeter went 2-for-4 with a triple, Russell Martin went 2-for-4 with a double, and Nick Swisher went 1-for-4 with a single. Ibanez’s two dingers account for the other two baserunners. The Yankees didn’t draw a single walk, so the rest of the team went a combined 0-for-25. Not good, Raul really bailed them out.
Jeter left the game in the ninth inning after fouling a ball off the top of his left foot in the very first inning. He played through it for the next eight innings, but he was clearly hobbled and having a hard time running. For the Cap’n to leave a playoff game, it had to be pretty bad. Jeter was diagnosed with a bone bruise and is day-to-day. I’m sure he’ll be in the lineup in Game Four, even if he’s just the DH. Jayson Nix replaced him at short and made a nice grab on an inning-ending line drive double play in the tenth.
Two very weird random moments in the game worth mentioning. First Nate McLouth got caught stealing second in the first inning, but he made it to the base safely only to over-slide and get tagged out on the shortstop side of the bag. Robertson and Mark Teixeira had a mini-collision in front of the mound on a pop-up in the 12th, which allowed Mark Reynolds to reach base. Baseball, I guess.
Box Score & WPA Graph
The WPA graph doesn’t do this game justice. Nope, not at all. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, and you should totally watch the highlights even if you saw the entire game.
It’ll be Game Four on Thursday night, as the Yankees will have a chance to eliminate the Orioles and advance to the ALCS for the third time in four years. Phil Hughes will get the ball for New York while the left-hander Joe Saunders will start for Baltimore. That game will start at 7:37pm ET because the Athletics pulled an Ibanez and walked off against the Tigers, forcing a Game Five.