Is it possible to go directly from the bench to a monument at Yankee Stadium? Well, Raul Ibanez just did it. Home run in the bottom of the ninth to tie it. Home run in the bottom of the 12th to win it. Instant icon. The TV advertisements for the Major League post-season talk about who will become a legend in October. I think we just got the answer.
They can afford a new statue in New York. What the Yankees couldn’t afford was to lose to the Baltimore Orioles at the wrong time. They didn’t, thanks to Ibanez, who was riding the bench, but in a bold stroke by manager Joe Girardi found a bat and pinch-hit for designated hitter Alex Rodriguez. Then he pinch-hit for himself. Actually, Ibanez just quietly stayed in the lineup as the DH out of sight, until the batting order got around to him again. He promptly hit another solo home run for the 3-2 victory and the 2-1 lead in games in the American League Division Series.
That was hardly the only suspense during Wednesday’s playoffs. The Detroit Tigers had the Oakland A’s on the ropes. Detroit needed just one more win to take its Division Series crown and move into the American League Championship Series. But the A’s manufactured just enough offense for a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth in Oakland for a 4-3 win.
And how about those Giants? Trailing 2-0 in games, they invaded the Great American Ball Park and are now tied with Cincinnati with the deciding fifth game on tap today.
And if that was not enough, the St. Louis Cardinals, the second wild card entry in the National League, took a 2-1 lead on the Washington Nationals Wednesday. Washington was the winningest team in baseball this summer with 98 victories. Now the Nationals are reeling and they can’t turn to Stephen Strasburg for pitching help at this late date after shutting him down unnecessarily in September.
While that TV advertising prefers to accentuate the positive in the search for heroes, it is equally true that goats are also made during the post-season. Or if that is too harsh a word, call it lingering bad memories.
If the Reds surrender a 2-0 lead and fall to the Giants, and/or if Strasburg-less Washington loses to the Cardinals after making its first post-season appearance since 1933, their fans (and the media) will remember it forever. These types of disappointments stick. If you doubt it, just mention 1978 (Bucky Dent home run), or 1986 (blowing the World Series to the Mets) to a Boston Red Sox fan. Mention 2011 (being upset by the Cardinals) to a Philadelphia Phillies fan. Hall of Fame Giant Willie McCovey can still be provoked into a conversation of how he wishes his line drive sailed a foot higher or wider away from Bobby Richardson’s glove in 1962.
The Giants-Reds series will be remembered in one of two ways. 1) In San Francisco it could be invoked as one of the franchise’s greatest triumphs and comebacks of all time while in Cincinnati it could be invoked as one of the biggest letdowns of all time. 2) Or the Giants will be praised for putting up a good fight while trailing 0-2 as the Reds exhale with a loud whew and move on to the next series.
Ibanez may never take another swing for the Yankees, but his name will be invoked with reverence forever where Yankee fans gather. Of course, it would help if the Yankees actually eliminate the Orioles now and that’s no sure thing. Not only did New York and Baltimore spend all of September snarling at one another like cornered dogs, but they each won nine games against the other in the regular season and the run differential was two. Ten times during September the Orioles nearly took over first place from the Yankees, but were held off. So this series is by no means over.
Likewise, Oakland spent all of September hunting down the Texas Rangers before gaining first place on the last day of the season. The A’s (speaking of budding October legends, think Coco Crisp) know how to play with pressure. They proved it again Wednesday and they will not go quietly. Then again, they will have to beat Justin Verlander.