Girardi’s Gutsy Decision Leads To Ibanez’s Historic Heroics
Strangers were hugging each other in the concourses and down the stairs. Security guards and policemen were high-fiving and fist bumping the Yankee faithful on the New York City Subway. Chants of “Rahh-oool” were audible at midnight at Penn Station in New York, where Yankee fans were still pumped with adrenaline after New York’s dramatic 3-2 win over Baltimore in Wednesday night’s game three of the American League Divisional Series. None of these spontaneous embraces would have happened without a spontaneous decision by Yankees manager Joe Girardi that was completely out of character. Exit Alex Rodriguez. Enter Raul Ibanez. Enter one of the most dramatic wins in Yankees postseason history.
Girardi is known around the city for being a meticulous micro-manager with a large binder that breaks down every nuance and statistic with the matchups. He loves to mix and match righties and lefties in his bullpen, and is heavily scrutinized for not taking any daring risks and for doing everything by the book.
High above the action on Wednesday night, my friend and I were watching the action and seeing Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez mix fastballs, sliders and splitters to absolute perfection, completely baffling the Yankee offense. Baltimore appeared on its way to a 2-1 series lead, propelled by its familiar combination of stellar pitching and a couple of solo home runs, albeit from its eight and nine hitters on this blustery Bronx eve.
The New York offense that was in the game over the first eight innings could barely touch Gonzalez and the side-winding Darren O’Day, scoring its only run on a Derek Jeter triple that should have easily been caught by Orioles OF Adam Jones, evoking memories of Nelson Cruz’s crucial gaffe in game six of the 2011 World Series. Girardi had to do something drastic and against his nature to revive his team and the Yankee crowd that seemed resigned to defeat, deflated after seeing several strikeouts and feeble swings over the course of the game.
It seemed like the only time the crowd got loud was in its contempt and disgust for Alex Rodriguez, whose large salary and unending postseason struggles drew boos from the first time he came to the plate until the last time he struck out in the sixth inning. So Girardi chucked his book in order to spark the team and finally defied convention.
When Ibanez was announced as the pinch-hitter for Rodriguez in the ninth inning, there was a stunned silence in the crowd but an excited feeling building up in the (not so) cheap seats. So when Ibanez cranked one into the right field seats to tie the came, the Yankee Stadium crowd immediately came to life with renewed energy, and an appreciation for player and manager.
“You have to make some decisions sometimes that are tough decisions. I just had a gut feeling,” Girardi said.
As the Orioles bullpen continued to shut the Yankees down in extra innings, there was a growing feeling (for myself at least) that Ibanez was going to have to win the game himself. On the first pitch of the bottom of the 12th inning, he did just that. Ibanez circled the bases, jumped onto home plate and the unbridled euphoria coursed through Yankee Stadium and spilled out into the New York night. None of that would have been possible without Girardi’s unlikely gutsy call.