The New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics pulled out stunning victories, while the St Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants had more comfortable wins on Wednesday as all four Major League Baseball division series remained up for grabs.
New York’s Raul Ibanez became the first man in history to hit two home runs in a playoff game he did not start. However, it was the circumstances that were the more remarkable, with his long shot in the ninth tying the game and his homer in the 12th providing the winner in a 3-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
In a bold move by Yankees manager Joe Girardi, Ibanez was brought in as a pinch-hitter to replace Alex Rodriguez, after baseball’s highest-paid player continued to struggle at the plate.
“You’re going to be asked a lot of questions if it doesn’t work,” Girardi said.
It worked alright, and gave New York a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series against the Orioles.
Ibanez homered with one out in the ninth inning off Baltimore closer Jim Johnson to tie the game 2-2. He then hit the first pitch from Brian Matusz leading off the 12th to win it.
Baltimore had won 16 straight extra-inning games, and had been 76-0 when leading after seven, before the Yankees stung them.
“It was a great experience. We do it as a team. We stay after it,” Ibanez said. “I’m blessed to come up and have the opportunity like that. We do it together. It’s about a team and about winning.”
The closeness of Wednesday’s game mirrored the tight battle between the two teams all season. After their 10-game July lead was cut to zero early last month, the Yankees repelled every Orioles charge to snatch the American League East Division title. The teams were tied 10 times in the final month, but New York ended up top.
Phil Hughes was to start for the Yankees yesterday in Game 4. Chris Tillman or Joe Saunders were to start for Baltimore.
Oakland’s 4-3 win at home over the Detroit Tigers, squaring the series 2-2, was equally dramatic. Needing a win to stay alive in the series, the A’s trailed 3-1 going into the bottom of the ninth facing fearsome Tigers closer Jose Valverde.
Oakland, the smallest-payroll team in the majors, have come back from the dead repeatedly this season and they did it again, hitting a single and two doubles to tie the game, setting up Coco Crisp’s two-out RBI single that won it.
The A’s rode 14 walkoff wins in the regular season to an improbable AL West title. Those paled in significance and drama compared to No. 15, which set up an all-or-nothing Game 5.
Josh Reddick started the ninth-inning rally with a single just under the glove of the diving second baseman. Josh Donaldson followed with a double off the wall in left-center and both runners scored on Seth Smith’s double. Two outs later, Crisp lined a single to right and Smith scored easily when Avisail Garcia overran the ball when racing in to field it.
“It’s amazing,” Crisp said. “The guys in front of me obviously did a fantastic job of getting on base ... This club, we’ve been battling the whole year, giving 100 percent, and these walkoffs have been our MO [modus operandi] this year.”
The Cardinals had a much easier time of it, cruising past the Washington Nationals 8-0 to take a 2-1 series lead.
Chris Carpenter held the hosts scoreless into the sixth inning and rookie Pete Kozma delivered a three-run homer.