There probably isn’t a more mild-mannered guy on the Yankees than Raul Ibanez. Ask him a question, and you’re going to get a polite, politically correct answer.
But aside from answering questions in a way that would make Bill Belichick proud, Ibanez has also done something else extremely well for the Yankees — hit in the clutch.
“I don’t really think about it too much,” he said. “I just try to do whatever I can to help out.”
Ibanez did more than help out tonight, coming through with the decisive blow in a 6-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. After Nick Swisher struck out with the bases loaded for the second time in the game, Ibanez came up with two outs in the bottom of the eighth and blasted a grand slam into the right field seats to break a 2-2 tie.
“It works the opposite,” Ibanez said when asked if he was looking for a pitch he could take out. “If you allow yourself to think grand slam, you’ll end up hitting a groundball, usually, or something good doesn’t happen. Bases loaded with two outs, there’s no advantage to hitting a fly ball, really. I was just trying to hit a line drive and not do too much.”
Of Ibanez’s 12 homers this season, eight have come in the sixth inning or later. His grand slam tonight was the first by a Yankee in the eighth inning or later to give the team the lead since Bobby Abreu did it in 2008 (also against Toronto).
“He had really almost a week off because we saw all of the lefties in Boston, and then we had the four days off (for the All-Star break), and then we see C.J. Wilson on the first night back,” Joe Girardi said. “I figured it might take him a little while to find his swing, but he found it at the right time.”
• With the early-season injury to regular left fielder Brett Gardner (and in case you missed it, the news on Gardner didn’t get any better today), Ibanez has been pressed into playing the field much more often than the Yankees originally anticipated. Some have pondered whether or not that has helped his focus at the plate, but Ibanez dismissed that notion. “I just check the lineup, and if I’m out there, I’m ready,” he said.
• Phil Hughes didn’t dominate the Blue Jays’ lineup tonight, but he continues to show his maturity as a pitcher. He didn’t have his best swing-and-miss stuff, but he gutted his way through seven innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits and three walks while striking out four. “It was a battle today,” Hughes said. “I had a good fastball, but I was constantly behind in count. … It was a grind, and I just tried to hang in there and keep it close.”
• Hughes got out of a bit of a jam in the second inning, and that seemed to give him some confidence. After allowing a leadoff double to Edwin Encarnacion and walking Adam Lind, Hughes bore down to record the next three outs without allowing a run. “That was big,” he said. “You don’t want to fall into a hole like that, and I was able to get some outs and get us going there.”
• Here’s Girardi’s thoughts on Hughes’ performance: “I just love the way that he competed. He used his fastball, curveball and changeup pretty effectively, and he stayed away from big innings. He got some big outs when he needed to.”
• When Hughes was asked about Ibanez’s big homer, he cracked a smile and said, “I figured he’d be taking 3-1 with the bases loaded, but he obviously thought otherwise.” Ibanez’s response? “I was not looking to take in that count,” he said, before pausing and then reverting back to a generic answer. “But at the same time, you try not to do too much, either.”
• Ibanez also heaped praise on the rest of the Yankees’ lineup, particularly some of the at-bats that came before him. “It’s a lineup that when we do what we’re capable of doing and grind out at-bats and guys see a lot of pitches and fight, it puts a lot of pressure on the other team’s pitcher,” he said. “He knows he’s got to throw a lot of pitches… It’s advantegous for the offense when guys see a lot of pitches, and pitchers know that they have to make pitches. Guys aren’t going to swing at everything.”
• Lost in all of the Ibanez-mania was the fact that Russell Martin had himself a bit of game. He was subject to a lot of criticism on this blog throughout the day in our trade deadline post, but he answered the bell tonight. He hit an opposite field solo homer in the second to give the Yankees an initial 1-0 lead, and then almost hit one out to left-center in the eighth. He broke a 66 at-bat homerless streak, dating back to June 10.
• Robinson Cano had an RBI double in the third to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 19 games, which is also the longest active streak in the majors.
• Alex Rodriguez was originally scheduled to play third, but was moved to DH due to neck stiffness. As he has done all season, A-Rod hit the ball well as the DH, going 2 for 4 with a double and two runs scored. “Alex woke up with a little bit of a stiff neck,” Girardi said. “He tried to work through it and he took groundballs, but it was on his right side. He was able to turn left, but it was hard for him to turn (right). When he would throw, it would seem to aggravate it. He’ll probably DH again tomorrow.”
• I wanted to post a short piece from CBSSports’ Danny Knobler on how well the Yankees’ Class A prospect have been doing so far this season. There are few names aside from the ones that we usually hear about who are making some noise. According to the YES Network’s Jack Curry, Brett Gardner’s agent Joe Bick raised the possibility that Gardner may not play again this season. That may put the Yankees in the market for an outfielder with speed, which is where some of these prospects may come in handy.
Associated Press photos