NEW YORK -- Raul Ibanez booked his place in Yankees folklore on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, as the veteran hit two vital home runs to lift New York past the Baltimore Orioles to take a 2-1 series lead in the American League Divisional Series, 3-2.
Ibanez tied the score in the bottom of the ninth when he hit a high sinker off Jim Johnson for a solo home run as a pinch hitter for struggling third baseman Alex Rodriguez. The move to replace Rodriguez was considered a bold decision by manager Joe Girardi, who opted to use a low-ball hitter to face a low-ball pitcher.
Ibanez's walk-off homer came off left-hander Brian Matusz in the 12th inning, and was launched into the right-field bleachers. Following the game, Ibanez appeared subdued when intereviewed by the sideline television reporter, though his performance was historic and memorable -- even for a franchise that has had its fair share of success.
The 40-year-old is the oldest player to ever hit a post-season walk off homer, and the first player in postseason history to hit two homers in a game for a player who didn't start.
"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."
Rodriguez was gracious in being replaced by Ibanez. The 14-time All Star, who has seven strike outs in the series and has just one hit in 12 at-bats, expressed his approval for Girardi's decision, and was happy for his teammate to hit both the tying and game-winning homers. Cameras caught Rodriquez as perhaps the most excited Yankee when Ibanez's shot cleared the wall.
The Orioles squandered an excellent start from rookie Miguel Gonzalez. The 28-year-old, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009 and had previously spent more than six years in the minors, shined in front of a sellout and boisterous crowd in the Bronx by surrending just one earned run off five hits and no walk over seven innings. The Guadalajara native also struck out eight batters.
Though overshadowed by Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda also had a fine outing for the Yankees. The 37-year-old allowed home runs to Ryan Flaherty and rookie sensation Manny Machado, but gave up little else. Kuroda pitched into the ninth inning, and allowed just five hits and one walk.
Phil Hughes takes the mound for Game Four on Thursday at Yankee Stadium, as New York is one win away from advancing to the AL Championship Series.
Baltimore will have Joe Saunders on the hill for Game Four. Should the Orioles win, the series shifts back to Camden Yards for Friday's series finale.