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Yankees Walk-Off with 2-1 Lead Over Orioles in ALDS

The Baltimore Orioles have been the definition of clutch all season. This is a team that won 16 extra-inning games during the regular season and went 76-0 when leading after seven innings. Well, better make that 76-1 now. The Yankees, also a team that is no stranger to late-inning heroics, stole game three from Baltimore’s clutches, knotting the score at 2-2 on a bottom of the ninth inning homerun from Raul Ibanez and then winning it in the 12th on an Ibanez walk-off homer. Now instead of having their backs against the wall heading into game four, the Yankees are the ones with a 2-1 upper hand in the series as they will go for the knockout tonight in game four.

The dramatic walk-off becomes even more interesting, not just because of the unlikely player who homered to tie the game in the ninth and homered again to win it in the 12th, but also because of the player he pitch hit for.

Ibanez is the 12th Yankee in history to hit a postseason walk-off

Manager Joe Girardi made a gutsy move that turned out to be a genius move when he subbed in Ibanez for Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth inning facing a 2-1 deficit. With the game on the line, he took out the player who’s making $29 million this season and who has amassed 647 career homeruns.

“You have to make some decisions sometimes that are tough decisions. I just had a gut feeling,” Girardi said in an ESPN.com article.

The decision was also based on Rodriguez’s current postseason slump. A-Rod was hitting just 1-12 in the series with seven punch-outs before he was pulled in favor of Ibanez and although Rodriguez often gets criticized for being all about Numero-Uno, at the end of the day he and Girardi both want to do whatever it takes to win.

“Joe, you gotta do exactly what you gotta do,” Rodriguez told Girardi.

Ibanez further dispelled the notion that Rodriguez only looks out for himself.

“He said great job. A-Rod is a great teammate and great team player,” Ibanez said. “He’s the first one on the top step congratulating you. It’s about winning. It’s about the Yankees and continuing.”

Hughes will look to end Baltimore's season

New York now turns its attention to a Thursday that could have them advancing to yet another ALCS. Many were unsure who would get the ball for New York entering today’s game, but Girardi made another surprising decision, naming Phil Hughes the starter instead of ace C.C. Sabathia. Hughes was 16-13 for the Yankees during the regular season and was 2-2 against the Orioles with an ERA of 4.76.

When the Orioles were facing elimination earlier in this postseason, during their one-game wild card playoff with Texas, they went with Joe Saunders as their starter. So it’s no surprise that Buck Showalter is turning to him now to keep the O’s alive for game five. Saunders shut down the powerful Rangers lineup in five and two-thirds innings last week, allowing just one earned run on six hits.

If we’ve learned anything this season, it’s that Baltimore always rises to the challenge. I certainly don’t think they will be able to best the mighty Yankees in a playoff series, but I do think Saunders and the O’s can even the score tonight and at least send this thing to a decisive fifth game. But make no mistake, the Yankees could easily create a repeat of last night and end this series at any moment. When the game is on the line, New York is one of the best in the business. Always has been, always will be.

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