NEW YORK (AP) — Down by a run in an all-even AL division series, Joe Girardi approached Alex Rodriguez and told baseball’s highest-paid player he was going to pinch hit for him.
Bold move, benching one of the game’s great sluggers.
“I just had a gut feeling,” the Yankees manager said. “I just went to him and I said, ‘You’re scuffling a little bit right now, we have got a low-ball hitter and we’ve got a shorter porch in right field then left field obviously — Raul (Ibanez) has been a good pinch hitter for us, and I’m just going to take a shot.'”
The audacious decision worked.
Ibanez homered in the ninth, then again in the 12th, rallying New York to a stunning 3-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night for a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five series.
The slumping Rodriguez offered no complaint, telling Girardi: “Joe, you gotta do exactly what you gotta do.”
Injured saves leader Mariano Rivera went to Rodriguez in the dugout after seeing Ibanez head for the on-deck circle.
“I told Alex not to worry, that Raul was going to hit a home run,” Rivera said.
And Rivera was right next to A-Rod when Ibanez lined Jim Johnson’s 1-0 pitch into the right field stands. Rodriguez threw his arms into the air and then exchanged high-fives with Rivera. When Ibanez returned to the bench, Rodriguez was the first player to greet him.
“There was no one happier than me, one of the best performances I have ever seen,” Rodriguez said.
Yankees fans had been howling this week for Girardi to drop Rodriguez out of the No. 3 spot in the batting order. But Girardi was reluctant to move his fading slugger down in the lineup.
Until he took him all the way out.
“You have to make some decisions sometimes that are tough decisions. I just had a gut feeling,” Girardi said.
Rodriguez has 647 career home runs — he’s chasing the record of 762 by Barry Bonds — and is making $29 million this year. But was just 1 for 12 with no RBIs and seven strikeouts in this series when Girardi pulled him.
“It kind of caught me off-guard, hitting for a guy who’s half-a-billionaire,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said.
It was the first time Rodriguez had ever been pinch hit for in a postseason game, according to STATS LLC.
“Sometimes you’ve got to do what your gut tells you, and my gut told me to make the move,” Girardi said. “I still have the utmost respect for Al and I still think he’s a great player, he’s just going through a little tough time right now.”
Ibanez remained in the game and connected on the first pitch from Brian Matusz in the 12th. He became the first player to homer twice in a postseason game in which he didn’t start, STATS said.
Phil Hughes will try to clinch it for the Yankees on Thursday night in Game 4. Joe Saunders will start for Baltimore.
The Orioles had won 16 straight extra-inning games, and had been 76-0 when leading after seven, before theYankees stung them.
“It was a great experience. We do it as a team. We stay after it,” Ibanez said. “I’m blessed to come up and have the opportunity like that. We do it together. It’s about a team and about winning.”
The brash, young Orioles appeared poised to move within a win of their first trip to the AL championship series since 1997 before the Yankees’ comeback.
Ibanez hit a 1-0 pitch into the seats in the ninth, setting off a raucous celebration in what had been a demoralized Yankee Stadium crowd.
Ibanez at first didn’t know who he was hitting for and was a bit startled when Eduardo Nunez told him.
“Alex is one of the best hitters of all time, and he still is,” Ibanez said. “I mean, he’s one of the greatest players in the history of the game. So for a minute I just thought something was going on, I didn’t know what was happening, and then I just tried to put it behind me and get a good pitch to hit.”
After their 10-game July lead was cut to zero in early September, the Yankees repelled every Orioles charge. The teams were tied 10 times in the final month but New York ended up atop the division.
New York won the opener in Baltimore by scoring five runs in the ninth off Johnson, who had 51 saves in the regular season. The Orioles won Game 2 and rode Miguel Gonzalez’s pretty performance to a 2-1 lead in the ninth.
“Jimmy is a big-hearted, talented guy that believe me, we’d be at home watching without people like Jim Johnson,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s a special guy. We’re real proud of him, and you’ll see him again tomorrow night, I hope.”
The Yankees limited Baltimore to one hit after 20-year-old Manny Machado homered in the fifth. Ryan Flaherty homered earlier for the Orioles.
Robert Andino was doubled off second after leading off the Baltimore ninth with a single and advancing on a sacrifice.
Boone Logan got one out in relief of Hiroki Kuroda, who gave up two solo homers in 8 1-3 innings. Closer Rafael Soriano pitched 1 1-3 innings and David Robertson went two, finishing off his outing by bumping into and tagging Andino to end the top of the 12th.
Derek Jeter tied the score with an RBI triple in the third for the Yankees. Jeter, limping after fouling a ball off his foot, came out after eight innings. He says we will be able to play Thursday.
Girardi will wait and see.
“Well, we’ve seen what he’s been able to do in his career and how he’s been able to come back,” Girardi said. “Just got to keep our fingers crossed.”
NOTES: Rivera threw out the ceremonial first pitch. … Flaherty and Machado are first pair of rookie teammates to homer in the same postseason game. At 20 years, 96 days, Machado is the second-youngest player to homer in the postseason behind Yankees OF-DH Andruw Jones, according to STATS. He did it in 1996 for Atlanta, when he was 19 years, 177 days.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.