Keep in mind that Eric Chavez has played more than 1,500 big league games in his career. Keep in mind that he’s won five Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger, and once homered in a game that clinched a postseason series. Keep in mind that he’s not the guy who homered tonight.
“(This game) is my best baseball moment in my whole career, without a doubt,” Chavez said. “… There’s not even a close second.”
From the locker right next to Chavez.
“That’s probably my favorite moment in baseball so far in my career,” Russell Martin said. “Just unbelievable.”
From the locker on the other side of Chavez.
“You dream about stuff like that,” Nick Swisher said. “I wasn’t even the guy who hit it, and I was jumping up and down going crazy. For Raul, I could not be more happy for him, man. You gotta be pro to step up in a situation like that. Especially pinch hitting, come up against a guy like Johnson, and then to just get that one pitch — because he doesn’t give you that many pitches to hit — and then he comes up in the 12th inning, and he goes Jack City again! You can’t script something like that.”
No, you really can’t. Raul Ibanez became the first player in Major League history to hit two home runs in a postseason game with both coming in the ninth inning or later. This Yankees offense was lifeless, completely finished, and suddenly Ibanez showed up, pinch hitting for one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, and took this team to the verge of advancing.
“Watching the game and being a part of this great team with all these great players, Hall of Fame players, the thing that really sticks out to me from spring training is how mentally tough these guys are and what great teammates they are,” Ibanez said. “You know, I’ll go one step beyond that and say that they’re great people, too. Being in that situation and being a part of something like this, this great team, and obviously all the legends that have come before you here is an extraordinary feeling, and it’s a great blessing. And then to be a part of something like that is definitely a special moment.”
Last time a Yankees player hit a pinch hit home run in the postseason was Hideki Matsui in Game 3 of the 2009 World Series, but no one in franchise history had ever hit a postseason pinch hit home run in the ninth inning or later to tie the game or give the Yankees the lead.
The last Yankees player to hit any sort of game-tying home run in the ninth inning or later of a postseason game was — of course — Alex Rodriguez, who did it twice in 2009.
Rodriguez said he did not argue with Joe Girardi’s pinch hit decision, and frankly he handled himself incredibly well during a postgame interview when he was surrounded by a massive mob of writers, reporters and television cameras documenting what must have been a hard-to-swallow moment.
“I love Joe,” Rodriguez said. “Again, I’m one of the leaders of his team. Maybe 10 years ago I react a much different way, but I’m at a place in my career right now where team means everything. I don’t think there was anybody in the ballpark more excited for Raul than me.”
Girardi on the decision: “You have to make some decisions sometimes that are tough decisions, but I just had a gut feeling. We talked about it in the pregame about (Ibanez) being a great pinch hitter, and you’ve got a left-handed hitter who’s a low-ball hitter in a sense, and you’ve got a low ball pitcher. I just kind of had a gut feeling.”
Ibanez on the decision: “I assumed something was going on or something when I was told that I was hitting second. And I asked one of the guys, I think it was Nuñez, and I asked who was hitting. And it was Alex. … Alex is one of the best hitters of all time, and he still is. I mean, he’s one of the greatest players in the history of the game. So for a minute I just thought something was going on, I didn’t know what was happening, and then I just tried to put it behind me and get a good pitch to hit.”
• As I’m sure you fully expected, Derek Jeter said he will play tomorrow. He fouled a ball off his foot in the first inning, so this is completely different from the bone bruise in his ankle. “It hurt, man,” Jeter said. “If you have a ball, I’ll throw it off your foot and you can relate. It’s part of the game. It happens. I wish it didn’t happen, but it did. It’s over with. No one wants to hear about it. Come back and play tomorrow.”
• Ibanez on Jeter: Watching Jeet grind through that game was inspiring, and the guy is obviously one of the greatest players in the history of the game. But to watch him grind through stuff like that and see he’s got the heart of a lion is a great experience.”
• Mentioned it earlier but worth repeating: Orioles manager Buck Showalter announced that Joe Saunders will be tomorrow’s starting pitcher.
• The A’s came from behind to beat the Tigers and force that series to a Game 5. That means tomorrow night’s game will be played as scheduled with a 7:37 p.m. first pitch.
• Girardi said he started thinking in the seventh inning that he might use Ibanez to pinch hit for Rodriguez in the ninth. “I lined it up that the possibility could come up,” he said.
• Girardi would not commit to a lineup for tomorrow. “Let’s just see what I put up tomorrow,” he said. “Let me sleep on this one.”
• It’s going to be lost, but what a great start by Hiroki Kuroda. “I was a little bit nervous, but overall I felt pretty much the same way as I did during the season,” Kuroda said. Martin said Kuroda literally made two mistakes all night, both were sliders that Machado and Flaherty hit for their home runs. Otherwise, he was outstanding. “The extra rest helped him,” Girardi said. “The one slider that was up to Machado, really that was the only mistake he made all night. That’s pretty amazing seeing that he threw over 100 pitches.”
• Good quote from Chavez: “He’s been our best pitcher the whole year. It’s really kind of not talked about. He’s meant a lot to our team. They’re going to talk about Ibanez tonight and Hiroki’s going to get lost in the shuffle, which is a shame because he’s been one of the best all year.”
• Also lost in the shuffle: The Yankees bullpen. The Orioles had such a lockdown bullpen all year, and now the Yankees have gotten to those relievers twice in three games. Tonight the Yankees pen delivered 3.2 scoreless innings, with Dave Robertson getting the win for his first two-inning appearance of the year.
• On the popup that fell between Robertson and Mark Teixiera, both Robertson and Teixeira described it the exact same way. “The wind really picked up late,” Teixeira said. “That ball started out behind home plate. I didn’t think I was even going to be in the play, but as it started drifting, I kept drifting. Robbie didn’t think he was even going to be close to the play, so he didn’t even move and that’s why we collided. As a pitcher, you’re taught to get out of the way if it’s going to be close, but he figured just as I figured that Russ would probably catch it right around home plate.”
• By the way, on television it looked like Teixiera came up yelling at Robertson for being in the way. Robertson said that wasn’t the case at all. Teixeira came up telling Robertson not to worry about it and just get the next out.
• Random new milestone for Jeter: He now has five postseason triples, tying him with George Brett and Rafael Furcal for the most all-time.
• The Yankees have lost three extra-inning games all year. All three were against the Yankees. Otherwise, they went 16-0 in extra-inning games this season.
• Mariano Rivera said he plans to be here for all of the postseason home games. As for throwing out tonight’s first pitch: “It feels great,” he said. “A lot of emotions, but what a great game. Thank God we have Raul on our side. Great to be back here, to be on the field. It feels great. That’s what I can tell you guys.”
• It’s worth mentioning that during Rivera’s interview, someone yelled from the players’ only part of the clubhouse: “It’s excitement overload!” I couldn’t see who it was, but no surprise that it sounded a lot like Swisher.
• Final word has to go to Ibanez: “I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit. I don’t even really remember what happened. It was kind of a blur what happened. I think sometime down the line I’ll kind of remember it and recall it, but I think I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit.”
Associated Press photos