NEW YORK – The highest-paid player in baseball could only sit and watch when Raul Ibanez pinch hit for him and tied the game with a bottom-of-the-ninth home run.
Alex Rodriguez had another good view from the dugout three innings later when Ibanez homered to win it.
Saved by manager Joe Girardi’s gutsy move – and Ibanez’s big swings – the New York Yankees rallied for a stunning 3-2 win in the 12th over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night for a 2-1 lead in their best-of-5 A.L. division series.
“You’re going to be asked a lot of questions if it doesn’t work,” Girardi said.
The slumping Rodriguez, among the greatest power hitters in history, offered no complaint, telling Girardi: “Joe, you gotta do exactly what you gotta do.”
“Maybe 10 years ago I would have reacted in a much different way,” Rodriguez said.
Ibanez then stepped up and hit a tying, solo shot to right-center with one out in the ninth off major league saves leader Jim Johnson to make it 2-all.
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 all-time 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 been pinch-hit for in a postseason game, according to STATS LLC.
And it worked.
Rodriguez immediately turned to injured Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, raised one arm, then both arms and traded high-fives with his star teammate. When Ibanez returned to the bench, Rodriguez was the first player to greet him.
“He said great job. A-Rod is a great teammate and great team player,” Ibanez said. “He’s the first one on the top step congratulating you. It’s about winning. It’s about the Yankees and continuing.”
Ibanez remained in the game and connected on the first pitch from Brian Matusz in the 12th.
Ibanez became the first player to homer twice in a postseason game in which he didn’t start, STATS said.
Baltimore had won 16 straight extra-inning games, and had been 76-0 when leading after seven, before the Yankees stung them.
“It was a great experience. We do it as a team,” Ibanez said.