Joe Girardi, Mr. October.
The New York Yankees manager made a gutsy call with Game 3 of the American League Division Series on the line Wednesday night, sending Raul Ibanez to the plate to pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez — pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez! — and Ibanez delivered a ninth-inning home run that tied the score and another home run in the 12th that gave the Yankees a 3-2 win and a 2-1 series lead over the Baltimore Orioles.
How gutsy was the call? Only the gutsiest, ESPN New York’s Ian O’Connor writes, “any Yankees employee has made since Brian Cashman invited Derek Jeter to dinner after the 2007 season and told the captain, in effect, that he was a lousy defensive player who needed to improve or else.”
The home runs place Ibanez firmly in Yankees lore and in baseball’s history books as the first player to homer twice in a postseason game he didn’t start. Girardi said the idea to bench his $305-million man was one that came from his “heart” and his “gut.” A-Rod, who has hit 647 home runs but none in his last 80 at-bats, admitted he hasn’t been replaced by a pinch hitter since “maybe high school.”
“‘You’re scuffling a little bit right now,” Girardi said he told A-Rod, who has struck out seven times and had one hit in 12 at-bats (for an .083 average). “‘We have got a low-ball hitter and we’ve got a shorter porch in right field than left field obviously. Raul’s been a good pinch hitter for us, and I’m just going to take a shot.’”
Afterward, A-Rod was the good teammate. “I couldn’t be happier for Raul,” Rodriguez said. “Ten years ago, I might have reacted differently. I admit I might not have taken it as well. But I have matured. I told Joe when he came to me that he had to do exactly what he felt he had to do.”
All day Wednesday, a debate had raged over whether should be moved down in the lineup from his No. 3 spot. Now, it’s likely to mushroom into a heated conversation about whether he should be in a lineup that has struggled offensively. For what it’s worth, A-Rod expressed “100 percent” confidence that he would be in the lineup tonight. “I wish it was me hitting two home runs tonight, but I’m still feeling good. I was relaxed tonight. I’m ready to break out.”
Maybe so. But with headlines like “A-Who?” and “Who needs A-Rod?” the bigger question is whether Girardi will give him the chance to banish the memory of the slugger relegated to the role of cheerleader. From Dave D’Alessandro of the Star-Ledger:
A-Rod remembers what that is like. We all remember: The Bronx has exploded like this before, but usually it’s the result of a superstar producing at the moment of truth. Not a superstar applauding with the rest of us, forever a spectator for the season’s biggest moment.