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Playoffs Drama: Ibanez, Crisp, and More Deliver

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

A full day of baseball was punctuated with two incredible finishes in the ALDS.

Playoffs Drama: Ibanez, Crisp, and More Deliver

Wow.  What more can you say after yesterday's baseball games?  In the NL, the Giants forced a Game Five by knocking around Mike Leake and finally coming alive at the plate.  The Cardinals put the Nationals on the brink of elimination with an 8-0 win, getting another gutsy playoff outing from Chris Carpenter and hitting Edwin Jackson hard right from the start.

Those day games were great, but things really heated up with the ALDS matchups (which in my opinion have provided better baseball and more drama all around).  It started with the Yankees and Orioles in the Bronx.  Miguel Gonzalez, a 28-year-old rookie from the Mexican winter leagues, stymied the Yankees for seven strong innings, giving up just one run and making most of the Yankee hitters look bad.  Hiroki Kuroda wasn't quite as dominant, but really only made two mistakes.  Those ended up being solo home runs to Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado.  Kuroda pitched 8.1 innings of quality ball, but still left down 2-1.

Fast forward to the bottom of the ninth inning.  Ichiro Suzuki flew out to left against closer Jim Johnson.  Due up was DH Alex Rodriguez, who up until then was 0-3 with two weak strikeouts.  Joe Girardi decided to pinch-hit Raul Ibanez for Rodriguez.  It was the first real big move that Girardi had made all series, and did it ever work out.  On the second pitch, Ibanez crushed a hanging sinker into the stands to tie the game 2-2.  Rodriguez was the first player out of the dugout to congratulate Ibanez.

Fast forward again to the bottom of the 12th inning.  Ibanez comes up to lead off the frame against lefty reliever Brian Matusz.  Entering the at bat, Ibanez hadn't hit a home run against a left-handed pitcher.  On the very first pitch, a high fastball left over the middle of the plate, Ibanez absolute smoked the game-winning home run into the second deck in right field.

Three pitches, two swings.  That's all it took for Raul Ibanez to change the course of New York's season and put Baltimore in a 2-1 hole.  It was an incredibly gutsy move by Girardi, but the matchup favored Ibanez in that situation.  Ibanez is a better low-ball hitter than Rodriguez, and he had just recently hit a walk-off home run at the end of the regular season.  On paper, it seems like the obvious move.

But the notion of pinch-hitting for a player like Alex Rodriguez just seems crazy.  A-Rod is one of the greatest players of all-time.  He isn't the best player in baseball like he once was, but he is still A-Rod, and removing him in a clutch situation like that almost seems impossible.  But the quotes from Rodriguez after the game were incredibly telling.  He told reporters after the game:

Joe and I had a discussion. We preached all year, ‘Whatever it takes to win.’ I don’t know how I would have reacted to that 10 years ago, but I’ve matured a lot over the last 10 years. ... We preach about team, team, team. That’s all we care about. Let’s collect enough victories to win a world championship around here. When he told me, I said, ‘Joe, you've got to do exactly what you’ve got to do.’ Then I got up to the top step and started cheering. I just couldn’t be happier for him.

I give Rodriguez a lot of grief, but that quote right there should change a lot of people's opinions about the man.  We all know he's not the same player he was 10 years ago, and he realizes that too.  He didn't react selfishly, he didn't complain.  He was happy for his teammate and for the team as a whole.  Should he still be hitting third in the lineup?  No, Joe Girardi.  But A-Rod earned my respect.

How could you top a breathtaking performance like that?  With a walk-off win that preserved a season, that's how.

The Oakland A's trailed the Detroit Tigers 3-1 entering the bottom of the ninth.  Detroit was three outs away from clinching the series and had their closer in to shut the door.  Instead, Oakland rallied for an improbable 4-3 victory.  Josh Reddick started the inning with a single.  Next, Josh Donaldson drilled the first pitch off the wall in left-center.  With runners at second and third and no one out, Seth Smith ripped a double into the the right field gap to tie the game.  Oakland was in business.

The next two batters both made out, and manager Bob Melvin made the curious decision not to bunt Smith over.  It paid off though when Coco Crisp came to the dish with two outs.

This Oakland team is remarkable.  The roster is filled with young guys that are overachieving and not taking no for an answer.  There is so much energy and youthful enthusiasm on that club, and the fans in Oakland are so incredibly supportive, that I almost expected that comeback to happen last night.  This series has been one for the ages, and tonight's Game Five will hopefully be just as fun as the first four.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see your teams battle in the postseason.

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