Raul Takes Us There

An ecstatic Yankee team does pretty much what the 50,000 delirious fans were doing in the 12th inning, only they had the night's hero to swarm.

Bronx, N.Y., October 10, 2012 – The agony that can be postseason baseball was visited upon Yankee Stadium Wednesday night. Questions about the weather dissipated throughout the day, but doubts about the second-half Yankee offense persisted, right up until the “last” moment.

Righthanders Miguel Gonzalez and Hiroki Kuroda faced one another, and both did well, borne out by the fact that when this one went to extra innings each team had two runs on six hits. Kuroda went 8.3, Gonzalez seven innings, but the visiting hurler had the chance to win because two Baltimore hits off Kuroda left the yard. Lefty-hitting second baseman Ryan Flaherty lined the first pitch he saw over the right field wall in the third, and rookie third sacker Manny Machado followed with a first-pitch bomb to left in the fifth.

The second drive untied a 1-1 score; the Yanks had plated a run on a Russell Martin double and Derek Jeter triple in the home third. Although both drives were legitimate, both left fielder Nate McLouth and center fielder Adam Jones failed to complete makeable plays. (With a quicker retrieve McLouth might have nailed Martin at second, or held him at first; and it was clear that Jones thought he had Jeter’s drive tracked until it eluded him at the wall.) But the 0-for-5 Ichiro Suzuki couldn’t drive Jeter in from third; the lone Yankee scoring chance through the first eight innings came up short at just one run.

Kuroda was following superb starts by CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte and, the two long balls notwithstanding, gave his team every chance. He mixed low-nineties fastballs with sliders and split-finger tosses to frustrate every Baltimore attempt except for the two home runs. By throwing a single-digit number of pitches in four different innings, he kept himself under the century mark so long that he could start the ninth. Pounding the zone for 21 of 31 first-pitch strikes, he threw 66 strikes and 38 balls; surrendered just five hits, one walk, and the two runs; and struck out three.

But he left the game on the short end of a 2-1 score because, it must be said, Gonzalez was even better. This recently unfamiliar righty had shut the Yankees out this season, and he used a similar mix to Kuroda’s to flummox them early Wednesday. He walked none, and not one of the three singles he allowed outside of the two-hit, one-run third reached second. But even worse (for Yankee chances) he became even more devastating when he largely abandoned his fastball late. Mixing curves, split fingers, and sliders between 78 and 86 mph, he struck out five of the last eight batters he faced, and all eight of his punch-outs were of the swinging variety. Yankee fans booed Alex Rodriguez all night because he whiffed twice, but Jeter and Eric Chavez struck out twice too, and Curtis Granderson three times.

Thankfully, those eight late at bats increased Gonzalez’s pitch count enough where Buck Showalter pulled him after seven, a move righthander Darren O’Day justified when he set the home team down in order on 12 pitches in the eighth. Baltimore closer Jim Johnson came on for the ninth, and once Suzuki lined deep to left, Joe Girardi made the tough call to pinch-hit Raul Ibanez for Rodriguez. The move produced immediate results, as the lefty pull hitter tied the game with a 1-0 line home run to right on a high fastball. The Yankee offense went back into sleep mode, but it is worth pointing out that all three outs Johnson got that frame were line shots.

Johnson was better in the 10th, and lefty Brian Matusz delivered a one-two-three 11th, although Jayson Nix, who replaced a bruised-footed Jeter in the ninth, reached the warning track in left for the frame’s second out. Meanwhile Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan, and David Robertson subdued the O’s around a leadoff single in the 10th and a two-out infield error in the 12th. Dominant against lefties since he was moved to the bullpen, Matusz stayed in for the 12th. But Ibanez, leading off, was either stoked or unconscious, and the only difference between his game tier in the ninth and the winner in the 12th was that the latter took one less pitch, and traveled one deck further.

The Yanks eked out a two-game edge in taking first place in the AL East in a month-long battle throughout which Baltimore and New York remained one game apart. Having arrived in New York tied at a game apiece in the five-game ALDS, the 3-2 Yankee win gives them a two-to-one lead in games, and they can finish the Birds off on Thursday eveniing behind righthander Phil Hughes.

As will not be an uncommon occurrence on any October day, the Yanks have played some crucial games and caashed in some big wins on the 10th. It was on this day in 1964 that Mickey Mantle untied a 1-1 World Series game with the Cardinals in the ninth inning by homering off Barney Schultz for a 2-1 win. And the most successful Yankee season in recent memory was saved when Orlando “el duque” Hernandez tossed a four-hit, 4-0 shuout against the Indians on October 10, 1998, squaring that seven-game ALCS between the rivals at two wins apiece.

The day after this night’s hero was born on June 2, 1972, the Staple Singers, singing

Ain’t nobody cryin’
(I’ll take you there)
Ain’t nobody worried
(I’ll take you there)

claimed the No. 1 single in the land with I’ll Take You There.

A generous man, on Wednesday night, Raul Ibanez showed us what it’s like. He took us “there.”