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For the second time in a week Wednesday night, Yankees' pinch hitter Raul Ibanez played the role of savior blasting the game-tying and game-winning home runs to propel New York to a much-needed victory at Yankee Stadium.
It was hard to imagine it would happen again. But it did. With one. Check that. Two swings of the bat Wednesday pinch hitter Raul Ibanez created his own story in New York Yankees' postseason history as his pair of solo home runs -- one in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the game, one in the bottom of the 12th inning to win the game -- helped the Yankees sneak past the Baltimore Orioles, 3-2, in Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium.
"I tried to get a good pitch to hit and hit it on the fat part of the bat and not try to do too much," said Ibanez to YES Network's Michael Kay about his game-winning blast that came off Orioles' reliever Brian Matusz. "Fortunately, I got a pitch up in the zone that I could handle and it worked out for us."
"I just had a gut feeling," said Yankees' manager Joe Girardi, who elected to have Ibanez hit for designated hitter Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth. "I talked about it in the pregame about him being a great pinch hitter and you've got a left-handed hitter who's a low-ball hitter and you've got a low-ball pitcher. I just kinda had a gut feeling."
Girardi's gut feeling setup the magical moments, but it was Ibanez's two gargantuan swings that polished off the tricks and propelled the Yankees to a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
In the traditional baseball world, Ibanez shouldn't have been in there. The left-hander came in for a player who has hit more than 600 home runs in his career.
However, with his team floundering on offense -- Baltimore starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez tossed seven innings of one-run, five-hit ball, his reliever Darren O'Day pitched a scoreless eighth -- Girardi did the unthinkable and pinch hit for his No. 3 hitter.
"Its a tough move," said Girardi. "But sometimes you got to do what your gut tells you and my gut told me to make the move. I still have the utmost respect for Al' and I still think he's a great player. I just think he's going through a tough time right now."
As tough as things were for Rodriguez or Girardi the man in the toughest spot was Ibanez, who tied the game, 2-2, off Orioles' closer Jim Johnson in the ninth and won the game in the 12th.
What makes things even crazier is exactly a week ago he did the same thing to the Orioles. That time, however, he hit a game-tying home run in the ninth and collected a game-winning single in the 12th against the Boston Red Sox in a 4-3 victory. That win helped the Yankees retain their one-game lead in the AL East Division standings with one game remaining. New York would go onto win the next night to clinch the division crown leaving the Orioles in win-or-go-home situation two days later against the Texas Rangers.
On Thursday, Baltimore will be in the same situation. A few hours ago, that was hard to imagine.