Yankees, A’s rally late to win playoff thrillers
Historic home runs by Raul Ibanez rallied the New York Yankees to an unlikely Major League Baseball playoff triumph Wednesday while Coco Crisp’s last-inning heroics kept Oakland’s title dreams alive.
As a result, both tension-packed American League best-of-five divisional series will resume again on Thursday with three teams having a chance to advance and the Baltimore Orioles fighting to sustain their championship hopes.
New York’s Ibanez blasted a game-winning solo homer in the 12th inning after tying the game with a solo homer in the ninth to lift the host Yankees over the Orioles 3-2, giving New York a 2-1 lead in their series.
And in Oakland, the A’s scored three runs in the ninth – the last on a two-out single by Crisp – to defeat Detroit 4-3 and level their best-of-five battle at 2-2, setting up a one-game showdown to advance on Thursday.
The winners of each series will meet in the best-of-seven American League championship series with that winner advancing to play the National League champion in the World Series.
Ibanez put himself among the playoff legends for the 27-time World Series champion Yankees, becoming the first player to hit two homers in a major league playoff game that both came in the ninth inning or later.
“It’s a great experience,” Ibanez said. “We stayed after it. We did it as a team. It’s about team and it’s about winning.”
In the 12th, Ibanez smashed the ball over the right-field wall to send the Yankees dancing out of their dugout in delight.
“I was looking for a good pitch to hit, trying to hit it hard, not trying to do too much,” Ibanez said. “Fortunately for us I got a good pitch up and got a good swing on it.”
The 40-year-old outfielder and designated hitter became the first Yankee batter since 2004 with two homers in a playoff game and they came when the team needed them most.
The Yankees had been 0-58 when trailing after eight innings since the season began six months ago, but have twice rallied from such a hole in October, this time snapping a run of 16 extra-inning victories in a row for the Orioles.
“One pitch – that’s the world we live in,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
With the Orioles only two outs from victory, the Yankees equalized at 2-2 in the ninth when Ibanez, pinch-hitting for Alex Rodriguez, smacked a sinker pitch from Baltimore’s Jim Johnson over the right-field wall for a solo homer.
“I just tried to get ready to put a good bat on it,” Ibanez said. “I don’t remember what happened. It was kind of a blur.”
Johnson, a relief ace who did not allow a home run by anyone in the Yankees lineup in the regular season, surrendered his second of the playoffs to Ibanez to send the game into extra innings.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi followed his instincts by electing to insert Ibanez for “A-Rod”.
“I just had a gut feeling,” Girardi said. “You’ve got a left-handed hitter who’s a low ball hitter in a sense and you’ve got a low ball pitcher.”
Baltimore took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning on homers by Ryan Flaherty in the third inning and Manny Machado in the fifth.
The Yankees scored their first run in the third when Russell Martin doubled and crossed the plate on a triple by Derek Jeter, who exited after eight innings with a left foot injury.
At Oakland, the A’s trailed 3-1 entering the ninth. But Josh Reddick led off with a single, Josh Donaldson followed with a double and Seth Smith doubled to centrefield to bring home both runners and even the score.
Detroit pitcher Jose Valverde retired the next two batters but just when the Tigers seemed ready to escape into extrainnings, Crisp smacked a single to right field to bring home Smith with the winning run.
“Not giving up, playing until that final out -- the guys in front of me did a fantastic job,” Crisp said. “It’s an awesome feeling. I’m glad the opportunity was there.
“We don’t give up. That’s a credit to the guys in the front office and the coaching staff for instilling that mentality into us.”
Detroit opened the scoring in the third inning when Alex Avila doubled, reached third on Omar Infante’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Austin Jackson’s single.
Prince Fielder opened the fourth with a solo homer but Oakland answered in the sixth when Crisp reached second base on a fielding error by Fielder and scored on a double by Stephen Drew.
Detroit went ahead 3-1 in the eighth inning when Infante singled, advanced on Jackson’s sacrifice bunt and scored on a single by pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia.