Results tagged ‘ Jim Johnson ’
YANKEES 5, ORIOLES 4
Whenever baseball announcers brought up the myriad injuries the Yankees have suffered through this season the name Eduardo Nunez rarely came up. It was as if the 26-year-old shortstop was the forgotten man among all those superstars that were languishing on the disabled list.
But Nunez served notice he was back in a big way on Saturday by rolling an RBI single up the middle with one out in the sixth inning that proved to be the game-winner as New York extended its winning streak to a season-high six games by edging Baltimore in front of a swelteringly hot paid crowd 42,678 at Yankee Stadium.
Nunez was activated from the disabled list just before the game after having not played in a game since May 5 due to a severely strained left oblique. He was immediately inserted into the lineup at shortstop and batted eighth.
He then sparked the Yankees by going 2-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs after hitting just .200 with no home runs and four RBIs in the 27 games he played before suffering the injury.
Andy Pettitte (6-6) gutted out the 91-degree heat and high humidity to pitch into the seventh inning to collect his first victory since June 8 in Seattle against the Mariners, a span of five starts.
The Yankees trailed the Orioles throughout the early innings until the fifth against right-hander Chris Tillman (10-3).
With the O’s up 4-2, Nunez opened the inning with a lined opposite-field single to right and Chris Stewart followed with single to left. Brett Gardner advanced the runners a base with a sacrifice bunt and Ichiro Suzuki brought Nunez home with a bouncer up the middle that likely also would have scored Stewart.
However, Orioles second baseman Alexi Casilla made a diving stop on the outfield grass to keep Stewart at third. But the sparkling play could not prevent Robinson Cano from dumping a bloop single into left that scored Stewart with tying run.
The Yankees seized control of the game in the sixth when Lyle Overbay laced his third straight single of the day to open the frame and Luis Cruz bunted him to second. That set the stage for Nunez, who drove in the Yankees’ second run of the game in the second inning with a sacrifice fly, to come through with what proved to be the game-winning hit.
Tillman was charged with five runs on 10 hits and two walks while he struck out three in 5 1/3 innings. The loss broke a streak of seven consecutive winning decisions for the veteran right-hander.
Pettitte left with two out in the seventh having yielded four runs (three earned) on nine hits and no walks while he fanned four batters.
Relievers Shawn Kelley, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut out the Orioles over the final 2 1/3 innings on two hits, no walks and three strikeouts.
Rivera twirled a scoreless ninth – striking out former Yankee Chris Dickerson swinging with the tying run on first for the final out – to earn his 29th save in 30 chances this season. That save ties the 43-year-old future Hall-of-Fame closer with the O’s Jim Johnson for the major-league lead in saves in his final season.
The Orioles got on the board in the first inning off Pettitte when Adam Jones slapped a two-out single to left and Chris Davis stroked his major-league-leading 33rd home run to dead center to make 2-0.
The O’s added an unearned run in the second whenPettitte made a wild throw over Overbay’s outstretched glove on a single off the bat of Nolan Reimold, which allowed Reimold to take second. Casilla followed with an RBI single to left to score Reimold.
The Yankees got back into the game with two runs in the second.
Travis Hafner drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on an opposite-field single off the bat of rookie Zoilo Almonte. Overbay then laced a sharp single to right to load the bases and Cruz drove in a run in the third of the four games he has played with the Yankees with a single to left that scored Hafner.
Nunex then drove a ball deep into left-center to score Almonte, however, Reimold gunned down Stewart trying to advance to third for a double play, which effectively killed the rally.
The Orioles added a run in the third on a leadoff double by J.J. Hardy and he advanced to third on a fly ball to center by Reimold and scored one out later on a single by Taylor Teagarden.
The Yankees rally to win also provided them with a claim on second place in the American League East. The victory gives them a 48-39 record and they passed the Orioles, who are now 48-40. The Yankees trail first-place Boston by 5 1/2 games as the Red Sox play the Los Angeles Angels on the West Coast.
- Nunez blew a great opportunity to be the team’s utility infielder last season with some erratic play in the field. He also got injured and missed most of the 2012 season with a nagging right thumb injury. This season he was handed the shortstop job because Derek Jeter was rehabbing from left ankle surgery. But Nunez suffered a severe oblique strain that sidelined for two months. But when Nunez is right, he can help the Yankees as a career .264 major-league hitter with 40 steals in 49 attempts. His 2-for-3 day pretty much shows what the Yankees have missed from him.
- Cruz has been impressive ever since he joined the team as a free agent signee on Tuesday. He is 4-for-14 (.286) with three RBIs in four games. With the addition of Nunez as shortstop, the Yankees on Saturday moved Cruz to third base, which allowed them to sit a slumping David Adams. The Yankees need right-hand production in the lower part of the order and Nunez and Cruz may provide it.
- Overbay’s 3-for-4 day hopefully will get him turned around at the plate. In the previous nine games, Overbay was 6-for-28 (.214). Of course, since the season-ending wrist surgery was performed on Mark Teixeira the Yankees have been forced to play Overbay every day and he is hitting an anemic .190 against left-handers. The Yankees could use a right-handed hitter who can play the position.
- Gardner was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and three groundouts. In his past four games, Gardner is in a 1-for-17 (.059) slide that has dropped his season average from .288 to .276. The slump comes despite the fact that manager Joe Girardi rested him on Thursday.
- Two base-running blunders really hurt the Yankees but ultimately they did not cost them a victory. One was Stewart’s decision to go to third on Nunez’s sacrifice fly in the second inning. Stewart was thrown out easily by Reimold trying to slide into third base for the second out when Stewart was already in scoring position at second base. The other blunder came when Gardner dropped down a sacrifice bunt in the sixth. Nunez was on second and assumed that pitcher Brian Matusz would throw to first. But the left-hander threw to Manny Machado at third and Nunez was thrown out because he did not run hard.
- Though Pettitte did win the game, he did not pitch well. In his past five starts dating back to June 14, Pettitte has yielded 19 earned runs on 41 hits and eight walks in 31 1/3 innings. He is 1-3 with a 5.46 ERA and a WHIP of 1.56 over that span.
The Yankees placed right-hander David Phelps on the 15-day disabled list with a mild right forearm strain. Phelps, 26, will be shelved for 10 days and then will be re-evaluated. An MRI taken on Friday did not show any ligament damage. Phelps is 6-5 with a 5.01 ERA in 12 starts. To take his place on the roster the Yankees activated Nunez from the 60-day disabled list and they shifted Teixeira to the 60-day disabled list. Ivan Nova, who earned his first major-league complete-game victory on Friday pitching in place of Hiroki Kuroda will remain the rotation in place of Phelps. . . . Jeter will play in his first rehab game on Saturday for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in a game against Lehigh Valley. Right-hander Michael Pineda will make his final rehab appearance as the starter for the RailRiders in the same game. Pineda is 2-1 with a 2.60 ERA and 15 strikeouts in his previous four starts. The Yankees will have to decide whether to activate him from the disabled list or option him to Scranton.
The Yankees can pay back the Orioles for sweeping them at Camden Yards last week by pulling off a home sweep of their own against Baltimore on Sunday.
Kuroda (7-6, 2.95 ERA) will start for the Yankees after missing his scheduled start on Friday with soreness in his left hip. Kuroda lost to the O’s in his last start on June 30, giving up four runs on seven hits in six innings. He is 2-3 with a 3.90 ERA in his career against the Orioles.
Right-hander Jason Hammel (7-5, 5.19 ERA) will start for Baltimore. Hammel was tagged for five runs on nine hits and a walk while he struck out seven in a loss Tuesday to the Chicago White Sox. He has not won a game in his past six starts. He is 3-3 with 5.46 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 3, ORIOLES 2
There are defining moments within a season and in a pennant chase. But the New York Yankees delivered a very big message to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday: You are NOT going to push us around anymore.
Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, who had failed to deliver in the same situation four innings earlier, came through with the tying and winning RBIs in the ninth inning off Orioles closer Jim Johnson and Ivan Nova pitched the game of his life as New York – bullied and bruised from a sweep at Oriole Park at Camden Yards last week – broke the heart of Baltimore with a walk-off victory in front of a raucous paid crowd of 43,396 at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees entered the ninth trailing 2-1 with Johnson (2-7) on the mound facing No. 9 hitter David Adams, who was hitting .183 as he stepped into the batter’s box. Adams ripped an 1-1 fastball and delivered an opposite-field single to right.
Brett Gardner, attempting to sacrifice Adams to second with a sacrifice bunt, reached on a single when Johnson overran the ball and was unable to make a play.
Surprisingly, Ichiro Suzuki then elected to drop down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Adams to third and Gardner to second because the move effectively allowed Orioles manager Buck Showalter to intentionally walk Robinson Cano to load the bases, as he had done in the fifth inning.
Trailing 2-1 with Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez on the mound in the fifth, Showalter had Gonzalez walk Cano intentionally to load the bases with one out. Hafner then flied out to shallow center, leaving Adams at third base. Wells followed with a weak foul popup to first baseman Chris Davis that left the bases loaded.
But in the ninth inning against Johnson both Hafner and Wells were hoping the outcome would be different. Fortunately for the Yankees, they redeemed themselves.
Hafner drew a walk on four straight pitches to bring in the tying run in Adams. Wells followed by slapping a 2-2 sinker from Johnson just past the dive of third baseman Manny Machado and into left-field to score Gardner with the run that made a winner out Nova.
Nova (3-2) was only starting the game due to a sore left hip flexor injury to right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. But the 26-year-old right-hander took advantage of his first start since June 23 and only his sixth start this season.
Despite opening the second inning by hitting Davis with a pitch and allowing a two-run opposite-field home run to Matt Wieters that hit off the top of the wall and bounded into the bleachers, Nova shut down the Orioles the rest of the way on just two singles and a walk while he struck out 11 batters – one less than his career best of 12 in 2011 against the Cincinnati Reds.
Mixing his 95-mile-per-hour fastball with a devastating curveball that had the powerful Orioles, who lead the major leagues in home runs, flailing at air all night in what was Nova’s first major-league complete game in 67 career starts. Over nine innings, Nova threw 102 pitches and 70 of them were strikes, a strike percentage of 69%.
This was much like the Nova of 2011 who burst onto the scene as a rookie to post a 16-4 record with a 3.70 ERA and win his final 12 games in a row. It was not the same Nova who was so awful in going 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA in 2012 and who was 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA in his first four starts of 2013 before he landed on the 15-day disabled list for two months with a right triceps strain.
It looked as if Nova would end up taking a hard-luck loss because the Yankees’ offense could only manage one hit off Gonzalez until the fourth inning.
Wells delivered a two-out lined single to left and Gonzalez then issued a walk to Lyle Overbay, seemingly pitching around the veteran first baseman in order to face light-hitting shortstop Luis Cruz. However, Cruz spoiled the strategy when he laced a sharp single to left and Wells was able to slide home just a beat ahead of the throw from Nate McLouth and the tag of Wieters at the plate.
The game remained that way until the Yankees mounted their rally off Johnson in the ninth that handed the closer his sixth blown save of the season, two of them to the Yankees.
Gonzalez gave up four hits and five walks while striking out four in six innings of work. Left-hander Troy Patton and right-hander Darren O’Day both pitched an inning shutout baseball for the Orioles.
The victory for the Yankees, their fifth in a row, allowed them to climb within percentage points of the second-place Orioles in the American League East with a 47-39 mark. The Orioles defeat left them 48-39, five games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox are playing the Los Angeles Angels in a late game in Anaheim, CA.
- How can six go into five? That the problem for manager Joe Girardi now that Nova has served notice he belongs in the rotation. You can’t possibly remove hard-throwing Dominican after what he did on Friday. When Nova is on like he was on Friday, he actually has the arguably the best stuff of any of the current Yankee starters. The most likely candidate to go could be David Phelps. But Phelps pitched a fine game against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday. Stay tuned.
- Wells was given a second consecutive start against a right-handed pitcher and he made the most of it. Despite hitting that weak foul pop in the fifth, Wells finished the evening 2-for-5 with a run scored and the game-winning walk-off RBI. In his past three games, Wells is 6-for-12 with four RBIs. That streak has raised his season average from .223 to .235.
- Cruz is showing signs he may be a better hitter than his .136 mark with the Los Angeles Dodgers that led to his designation for assignment and eventual release. Cruz is 3-for-11 (.272) and has RBIs in the past two of his three starts at shortstop for the Yankees. Cruz also made a fine pair of plays on ground balls off the bat of Machado and Nick Markakis in the third inning that robbed both of potential hits.
You can’t fault the pitching because Nova was sensational. Besides Cruz’s two gems, Cano turned in a pair of dazzlers in the fourth inning. So you can’t fault the defense. You could rip Hafner and Wells for failing the fifth inning with the bases loaded and one out. However, they atoned for those sins by coming through when it counted in the ninth. No complaints here.
The Yankees announced Friday that shortstop Derek Jeter will begin a rehab assignment on Saturday with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Jeter, who has spent the better part of eight months rehabbing a broken left ankle after undergoing surgery, is expected to play at least five innings at shortstop in the RailRiders’ game against Lehigh Valley. Jeter originally broke the ankle in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers last October. After undergoing surgery Jeter attempted to return to action during spring training but felt discomfort and had to be shelved. An MRI on April 18 indicated a second small break of the ankle and Jeter has been on the disabled list the entire season. Girardi refused to set a firm date for Jeter’s return to the Yankees. . . . Kuroda has been cleared to resume throwing again but it is not clear when he will make his next start. Kuroda first felt discomfort in his left hip warming up for last Saturday’s game against the Orioles in Baltimore. He pitched in the game and ended up losing 4-2. Kuroda is 7-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 17 starts this season.
The Yankees will put their five-game winning streak on the line on Saturday in a matinee against the O’s.
Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (5-6, 4.40 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Pettitte passed Whitey Ford to become the team’s the all-time team strikeout leader but he ended up with a no-decision on Monday after giving up four runs on six hits and four walks in five innings against the Twins. Pettitte is 18-5 with a 3.48 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Orioles.
Baltimore will start right-hander Chris Tillman (10-2, 3.68 ERA). Tillman yielded two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out six in six innings against the Yankees on Sunday, his seventh consecutive winning decision. He is 3-3 with a 7.27 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, ORIOLES 4 (10 Innings)
Some teams are built with a lot of money. Some teams are built with a collection of players with special skills. But successful teams are built with lots of players who have heart.
The 2013 New York Yankees are a team with an awful lot of heart and that was on display Monday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Down 4-3 with one out in the ninth inning and Orioles closer Jim Johnson on mound, Travis Hafner blasted an opposite-field home run into the bleachers in left-center to tie it and Vernon Wells laced a game-winning RBI double in the 10th inning as New York came from behind to down Baltimore in front of a paid crowd of 24,133.
Hafner and Wells embody the heart of what has been called “The Replacements” and they provided the Yankees with the clutch hitting just when they needed it.
The Orioles took a 3-2 lead away from left-hander CC Sabathia and the Yankees in the bottom of the seventh inning when Nick Markakis slapped an RBI double to left-center to score Alexi Casilla and J.J. Hardy followed one out later with an RBI double down the right-field line.
The Orioles made their 2012 wild-card run largely on the strength of their incredible 24-6 record in one-run games. But 2013 is looking like a much different season for them.
Johnson, who had entered the game having blown his last two save opportunities, fell behind Hafner 3-1 when the 35-year-old designated hitter sent a belt-high outside fastball into the 80-degree evening air and by the time it landed Johnson was hanging his head in disbelief.
David Robertson (3-0) came in to pitch a scoreless ninth inning that sent the game into extra innings, where the Orioles posted an incredible 16-2 record in 2012.
What a difference a year makes!
Ichiro Suzuki opened the top of the 10th with a line-drive double into the right-field corner off right-hander Pedro Strop (0-2)
Wells, who entered the game as pinch-hitter in the eighth inning then picked on a 1-2 hanging slider from Strop and slashed it to the base of the wall in left and the ball bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double that scored Suzuki.
After Austin Romine bunted Wells to third, Brett Gardner was retired on hard grounder and Strop walked Robinson Cano intentionally.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter replaced Strop with left-hander Brian Matusz to face Hafner. But Hafner spoiled the strategy by slashing a 0-1 slider into right for a single to score Wells with an insurance run.
Mariano Rivera, who entered the evening a perfect 16-for-16 in saves this season, pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th, punctuating his 17th save by striking out Chris Dickerson swinging to push the Orioles’ current losing streak to six games.
Believe me when I say that this one really hurt the Orioles.
Sabathia, who was 19-4 with a 2.90 ERA in his career against the Orioles including two victories in the 2012 playoffs, was unable to keep any of leads the Yankees kept providing him with throughout the evening.
Cano opened the scoring with a solo home run – his American League-leading 13th of the season – off former Yankee right-hander Freddy Garcia with one out in the first frame. David Adams followed with a one-out homer of his own, his first in the major leagues, in the second inning.
But Chris Davis reclaimed a share of the A.L. lead in homers with his 13th home run off Sabathia with one out in the bottom of the second.
Two innings later, Markakis tied it up at 2-2 with a one-out RBI single to score Steve Pearce, who led off the inning with a double.
But Lyle Overbay promptly untied it for the Yankees in the seventh with a leadoff home run in the bleacher sin right center off left-hander Troy Patton.
Sabathia then ran out of gas in the seventh and surrendered the lead to the Orioles.
Sabathia gave up four runs on 11 hits and he struck out two in 6 1/3 innings. Garcia, meanwhile, yielded two runs on three hits and two walks while he fanned two in six innings for the O’s.
The Yankees extended their winning streak to three games and, combined with the loss by the Boston Red Sox to the Chicago White Sox, they extended their lead in the American League East to 1 1/2 games. The Orioles fell to 23-21 and they are now a whopping five games behind the Yankees in third place in the division.
- Hafner’s dramatic home run and RBI single in the 10th must have Yankee fans saying “Raul who?” because Hafner is making them forget how important Raul Ibanez was to the Yankees during the stretch drive and in the playoffs last season. Hafner is hitting .267 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs.
- Wells, another reclamation project courtesy of general manager Brian Cashman, knew his playing time would be reduced when Curtis Granderson returned but he is proving to be very valuable off the bench. With his game-winning double in the 10th, Wells is hitting .267 with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs, which is third on the club behind Cano and fellow “Replacement” Overbay.
- Adams’ rookie legend may be growing by leaps and bounds in just five major-league games. Adams was 2-for-4 including his homer. Adams also made some sterling plays in the field, which is surprising because he is not considered to be a good fielder. Adams is 6-for-18 (.333) with a home run and two RBIs and is looking like he might be staying long after Kevin Youkilis comes off the 15-day disabled list.
- Sabathia was just not very sharp at all in this game. In his past two starts, Sabathia has given up 21 hits and two walks in 12 1/3 innings for Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched (WHIP) of 1.82. The Orioles used an opposite-field approach against the left-hander and they burned him repeatedly with it. Sabathia is also paying for a dip in velocity in his fastball.
- Granderson is struggling at the plate and it may be a byproduct of rushing through his rehab in just five games. Granderson was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and he did not get a ball out of the infield. He is 4-for-19 (.211) without a home run and an RBI in five starts.
First baseman Mark Teixeira reported on Monday that he took his first at-bats in a simulated game in Tampa, FL, and he was 1-for-2 with a double and a walk. It was the first at-bats for Teixeira since he tore the sheath in his right wrist in March. Teixiera is hoping to play in his first game of the season by June 1 but that timetable may be a bit too optimistic. . . . Both Youkilis (back) and Alex Rodriguez (hip) took ground balls and batting practice at the team’s spring complex on Monday as both rehab their injuries. Manager Joe Girardi said that Youkilis likely will not be activated before the Yankees return home in a week. Though Rodriguez was able to take ground balls at third base on Monday, his timetable has not changed. He is expected back some time after the All-Star break. . . . The Yankees entered the day with a all-time major-league best 18-0 record in one-run games this season and they were within two outs of losing their first one-run game. But Hafner’s homer and Wells’ RBI double allowed them to extend the mark to 19 games.
The Yankees will continue their three-game road series with the Orioles on Tuesday.
Right-hander Phil Hughes (2-3, 5.88 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes will have to better on Tuesday because he is coming off what he called his worst major-league start on Wednesday against the Seattle Mariners. Hughes lasted only two-thirds of an inning and gave up seven runs on six hits and two walks. He is 6-5 with 5.47 ERA lifetime against the Orioles.
Baltimore is countering with right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (2-2, 4.58 ERA). Gonzalez is being activated from the 15-day disabled list after he sustained a troublesome blister on his right thumb. He is 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.
“Choices are the hinges of destiny.”
- Pythagoras, Greek philosopher
ALDS GAME 3: KEY MOMENT
In the pivotal game of the Yankees-Orioles division series, manager Joe Girardi made one the boldest and ballsiest calls in major-league postseason history.
With his big power-hitter Alex Rodriguez 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game and 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the series, Girardi elected to sit the most dangerous home run hitter of this generation and replace him with a 40-year-old left-handed hitter to face the American League’s best closer this season in right-hander Jim Johnson.
The Yankees were down 2-1 and they were two outs away from being left down in the playoff series 2-1 to the upstart Orioles.
But Girardi was resolute in his decision. He told Rodriguez to sit and Ibanez to grab a bat.
Think of the blowback if Ibanez had failed. The New York scribes would have had a foot race to the clubhouse for reaction from A-Rod. Headlines would have blared “Joe Loses Cool By Subbing Raul” or “Joe Panics; Yanks Fall.”
That, of course, is the nature of the New York media. They are with you until you fail and then you are left out to dry. Billy Martin, Yogi Berra Dick Howser were folded spindled and mutilated by the headline hungry denizens in the Bronx Zoo.
But after Johnson had retired Ichiro Suzuki, the crowd on the one hand stunned and, on the other hand, hopeful with fingers and toes crossed routed on Ibnez as he lumbered to the plate.
“Raul had to come through,” Girardi said. “Raul had some kind of day for us today, and you have to make decisions sometimes that are tough decisions. But I just had a gut feeling.”
Ibanez had his share of travails this season, too.
In spring training, Ibanez hit in the first three weeks of spring training as if he just picked up a bat at age 40 and was giving the major leagues a try. It was if he could not hit a ball off a tee he was so bad. But Girardi told the press that Ibanez was a professional hitter his entire career and that he had faith he would turn it around soon.
Sure enough, Ibanez starting roping line drives all over the place at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, and the wolves (the writers) were forced to stop baying at the moon.
Ibanez then became an integral part of the Yankees success this season. Forced into playing more outfield than he had expected in the absence of starting left-fielder Brett Gardner, Ibanez hit 19 home runs, drove in 62 runs and batted .240 in 340 at-bats this season for the Yankees.
Of course, Ibanez also fell into a severe slump in late August that bled into September. Once again, Girardi kept faith with his veteran outfielder/designated hitter. And again Ibanez rewarded the skipper.
Beginning with a Sept. 22 game against Oakland in which Ibanez entered the game as pinch-hitter in the fifth inning and he ended up hitting two game-tying homers, he went on a full-fledged tear in the final two weeks of the season. Ibanez went 15-for-37 (.405) with five home runs and nine RBIs down the stretch.
He also punctuated his hot streak with a game-tying two-run pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth and a game-winning RBI single in the 12th in a must-win 4-3 victory the Red Sox on Oct. 2.
But those heroics on Sept. 22 and Oct. 2 were but a dress rehearsal for what he was being asked to do on Wednesday. It is one thing to pinch-hit for Casey McGehee (as he did on Sept. 22) or Eduardo Nunez (as he did on Oct. 2). It is quite another to pinch-hit for A-Rod.
That is pressure.
But Ibanez was able to cast it aside enough to concentrate on what he wanted to do: Get a Johnson sinker up enough so that he could launch it into the seats. Johnson provided it on the very first pitch and Ibanez took care of it.
The subdued but hopeful crowd of 50,497 seemed to rise as one while the baseball traveled on a low, line-drive trajectory towards the straightaway right-field. It rose well over the head of Oriole defensive replacement Endy Chavez and some five rows into the bleachers.
On the top step of the dugout cheering loudly was A-Rod.
“Maybe 10 years ago, I’d react a much different way. But I’m at a place in my career right now where team means everything,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think there was anybody in the ballpark more excited for Raul than me.”
That home run, harkening Yankee fans back to the days of Bucky Dent, Reggie Jackson and Aaron Boone, allowed the Yankees to stave off what would have been a saddening blow to their playoff hopes. But Ibanez wasn’t having it.
The game remained tied until Ibanez’s next at-bat leading off the bottom of the 12th. Orioles manager Buck Showalter had opted to leave in left-hander Brian Matusz to face him.
Again, Ibanez was looking for a pitch up to drive. Matusz threw a chest high fastball but it was in the middle of the plate. Ibanez was ready and the sound so familiar to the fans rang out all over Yankee Stadium.
Ibanez, knew, Matusz knew and the fans there and those watching at home knew where it was going.
In one mere stretch of just two swings in two at-bats, Ibanez – should the Yankees advance to their 28th world championship – will be remembered in Yankee lore for what he did this evening.
While they are at it, they should also remember the guts it took for Girardi to push the correct button. Managers seem to get little of the credit and most of the blame in baseball.
This is not one of those instances. Girardi played his roster like a maestro and the music hit a real high note in the Bronx.
ALDS GAME 1: KEY MOMENT
Orioles closer Jim Johnson entered the American League Division Series against the Yankees with a pretty imposing collection of stats from the 2012 regular season.
In the 54 games he had been called upon to save this season he had a major-league best 51 saves. He also was 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA and he only coughed up three home runs in 68 2/3 innings.
It was against this backdrop that manager Buck Showalter summoned Johnson into a 2-2 contest in the top of the ninth inning in Game 1 of the best-of-five series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Showalter was doing what most managers do when the home team is in a tie game in the ninth: Call in your closer to pitch a scoreless inning to give them a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth.
The right-handed Johnson was the perfect choice to pitch the ninth because two of three scheduled batters bat right-handed and Johnson also is known around baseball circles for his devastating two-seam fastball. On a cool, brisk evening like Sunday in Baltimore, hitting Johnson’s sinker is like trying to hit a bowling ball.
Hitters generally hit lots of weak ground balls against Johnson because it is so hard to get any lift on the pitch when it is located down in the strike zone.
The first scheduled hitter for the Yankees was Russell Martin, who was 0-for-2 with a walk in the game. Martin suffered through his worst season at the plate in 2012.
After spending most of the season hitting well below .200, or the so-called “Mendoza line,” Martin caught fire and hit .258 with seven home runs and 17 RBis after Sept. 1 to raise his season average to .211, 49 points below his career average.
Johnson threw his first pitch, a two-seamer, that ended up low.
It must have taken Martin all the strength in the world to lay off Johnson’s second pitch, another two-seamer that was close to the knees but home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo called it a ball.
Catcher Matt Wieters questioned the call without turning around as Johnson emitted a blank stare. Johnson wanted the pitch because he did not want to have to give in by throwing a fastball a bit higher in the strike zone on an 0-2 count.
Johnson also throws a nifty change-up and a curveball, however, Wieters called for a third sinker and Johnson nodded his OK. With many in the paid crowd of 47,841 in the ballpark cheering wildly for a team that had not played in a postseason game since 1997, Johnson went into his windup and threw the ball as Wieters set up his glove low and outside.
However, Johnson’s sinker not only did not sink, it also rode high and right to the middle of the plate. Martin saw the 93-mph fastball was up and swung his bat. Though Martin has been a poor hitter most of the season, there is one pitch he handles exceptionally well: The fastball.
He swung, the ball hit squarely on the sweet spot of the bat and it rocketed into the air on a line into left-field. Oriole left-fielder Nate McLouth, hearing the sound of the bat immediately, started moving back to the wall close to the left-field line. But the trajectory was high enough and the ball was hit hard enough that it carried well above his head and six rows deep in the bleachers.
Martin knew he had hit the ball it well.
“It’s a big lift. It kind of sparked us, it seemed like. A pitcher of that caliber, you’re not expecting to hit home runs against him. I was just trying to hit the ball hard, and luckily he left a pitch over the middle of the plate for me.”
Johnson knew immediately he made a big mistake. He hung his head as he rubbed up a new baseball. The Yankees now led 3-2 and Johnson’s task was to keep the score where it was to give his team a chance to either tie or win it in the bottom of the frame.
But Johnson’s evening fell apart after the Martin blast.
He would throw 14 more pitches in the inning and record only one out.
Raul Ibanez singled. Derek Jeter followed with a hit-and-run single to advance Ibanez to third. With Eduardo Nunez running for Ibanez, Ichiro Suzuki scored him with a swinging bunt down the first-base line that he beat out for a single.
After Johnson struck out Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano sliced a four-seam fastball to the opposite field in the corner in left to score two more runs.
Showalter bounced quickly out to the mound to remove his closer and Johnson left with Cano on third on a throwing error by shortstop J.J. Hardy trying to throw out Suzuki at the plate.
Reliever Tommy Hunter came on and Nick Swisher lifted 3-1 fastball to deep center to score Cano. The Yankees had turned a 2-2 nail-biter into a 7-2 laugher in the blink of an eye.
Johnson gave up five runs on five hits in just one-third of an inning.
On July 16, Johnson was similarly tagged for five runs on four hits and a hit batter by the Twins in a game in Minneapolis. However, the Twins already led the game 14-5 at the time.
On July 27, the Oakland Athletics rallied from a 9-8 deficit against Johnson to score six runs on five hits and a walk in one-third of an inning at Camden Yards to defeat the O’s 14-9. That was Johnson’s only loss of the season.
If you take away those two appearances, Johnson’s season ERA would been 1.02 instead of 2.49.
So the fact that the Yankees even got to Johnson for a run is remarkable. The fact that they scored five runs against him was just unreal.
Yankee first baseman and Maryland native Mark Teixeira summed it up the best:
“Johnson has been so great all year; eventually you’ve got to get to him, right? And tonight was that night.”