When you think about Raúl Ibañez’s Yankee stint, by far the first things to come to mind would be his playoff heroics. In the crucial Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS against the Orioles, he hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning with the Yankees down to their final two outs. A couple innings later, he won the game with a walk-off home run, giving the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the series.
In the ALCS, he then hit another crucial home run. Down by two and down to their last out in the ninth inning against the Tigers, Ibañez hit a two-run home run, tying the game after the Yankees had started the inning down 4-0. Unlike against the Orioles, that game and that series ended poorly, as Detroit swept the series. Despite that, Ibañez had created a small piece of Yankees lore for himself with those clutch home runs.
However, those three moments are not where Ibañez’s heroics began. They actually started a few weeks prior, in a memorable Yankee Stadium game against the A’s.
Date of Game: September 22, 2012
Final Score: Yankees 10, Athletics 9 (14 innings)
Game MVP: Raúl Ibañez
After a strong run over June and July had sent the 2012 Yankees to the top of the AL East with a clear lead, that lead slowly and surely began to evaporate. A July 18th win saw them go 10 games clear in first, but a barely over .500 August saw that lead fall to just two. A few days into September, they found themselves tied for the division with the Orioles, on the verge of falling into the first ever AL Wild Card Game.
A five-game win streak against the Rays and Blue Jays that started on September 15th saw the Yankees get some much needed stability. However, it failed to gain any real ground on Baltimore, who also kept putting up wins. Then Oakland came to the Bronx for a weekend series that began with a much-needed walk-off, 10th inning win. Little would anyone know that even more dramatics were ahead for the second game of the series.
The Yankees sent Ivan Nova to the mound for game two of the series, but things very quickly began to go south. The A’s started the game with three-straight doubles off Nova, the latter two from Seth Smith and Yoenis Céspedes both scored runs, and the Yankees were down 2-0 before even recording an out.
In the bottom half of the first, the Yankees had answers, beginning what would be a very long, back and forth day. Ichiro Suzuki homered off Oakland’s Travis Blackley in New York’s second at-bat of the game, but the inning was far from over. After the home run, the Yankees put up two more singles, three walks, and were the beneficiaries of a balk by Blackley. A Robinson Canó single and a bases-loaded Andruw Jones walk were responsible for an RBI each in a wild first inning ended with the Yankees up 3-2.
The Yankees added a run in the second thanks to a couple singles and some more A’s struggles. Despite Ichiro running himself into an out at third on a Alex Rodriguez single, an error allowed the Yankees to put runners on the corners. A Blackley wild pitch allowed Rodriguez to score.
Despite all the miscues, Blackley would not be the first starter to exit the game. Nova allowed a home run to Stephen Drew to start the third. Then after a couple walks and a single, Joe Girardi removed Nova from the game after just 2.2 innings. Blackley wouldn’t be far behind, as the A’s replaced him to start the bottom of the third.
In what was now a battle of the bullpens, the Yankees blinked first. Clay Rapada had replaced Nova and then remained in for the fourth, where things got iffy. A hit by pitch and two singles plated a run as Cliff Pennington evened up the score.
The game had already featured numerous pitching and lineup changes when the Yankees made another in the fifth. With one out, Ibañez was sent up as a pinch hitter for Casey McGehee, beginning his eventful day. On the second pitch of his at-bat, Ibañez took a Jim Miller pitch over the short porch in right, putting the Yankees back in front.
After Derek Lowe had come in for Rapada and given the Yankees a couple solid innings, he was replaced with one out and one on in the seventh. Boone Logan came in for him, but gave up a single and then a sac fly, tying the score once again.
The teams then began to trade zeroes, but not without missed opportunities. The Yankees left two on base in the bottom of the seventh, while the Athletics then topped that by leaving the bases loaded in the top of the eighth. The Yankees had a chance for a ninth inning walk-off after a one-out Nick Swisher single, but he was stranded and the game headed to extras.
As the free baseball got going, the teams continued to just miss out on chances. The pitching changes had kept coming, and Freddy Garcia had entered for the Yankees in the 10th. In the 11th, he worked into and out of trouble, managing to strand the bases loaded.
The Yankees would match that feat in the 12th, albeit in a somehow more frustrating fashion. With Ibañez on third with one out after he hit a double and moved up on a wild pitch, Russell Martin grounded one right at the second baseman. Despite him not exactly being a speed demon, he took off on contact. The throw beat him there, and, while Ibañez tried to bowl over Oakland catcher Derek Norris, he was out.
Even though that was disappointing, the Yankees’ offense did manage to keep the inning going. Curtis Granderson and Eric Chavez both drew walks to load the bases. Unfortunately, Derek Jeter flew out to end the inning, and another chance had been squandered.
That missed chance seemed bad enough as it was, but it then became even worse when the 13th inning started. Garcia took the mound again, but allowed a lead-off single to Drew. Jonny Gomes and Céspedes then hit back-to-back home runs, giving the A’s a three-run lead. Garcia exited, but Chris Carter would add another home run before the inning ended. After all that, the Yankees were now down four runs.
Four runs in three outs is a lot to make up, as evidenced by the fact that the Yankees’ Win Probability was at just two percent going into the bottom of the 13th. However, they started the rally as perfectly as you need to. Ichiro, A-Rod, and Canó all singled, loading the bases. A wild pitch scored one of those runs, but the Yankees’ chances took a big hit when Eduardo Núñez flew out. It was a sac fly, so while it did score a run, it also dramatically dropped the Yankees’ margin for error.
While the game had been a 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon start, the skies had become quite dark by this point. In addition to it being genuinely later in the day, there was also rain around and it had begun to fall by the time Ibañez stepped to the plate in the 13th. After working the count 3-1, he did this on a Pat Neshek pitch:
September 22, 2012— NY Yankees Throwbacks (@yankeethrowback) June 6, 2020
Raul Ibanez hits a game-tying home run in the 13th inning pic.twitter.com/EHzL073WAx
The Yankees had come all the way back, and the score was tied once again. The Yankees couldn’t win the game in the 13th, and, for better and for worse, the dramatics were far from over.
Cory Wade got through a 1-2-3 14th, and Chavez then started off the bottom of the inning with a single. At that point, Melky Mesa was sent in to pinch run for Chavez in his MLB debut. That would soon become an important thing to note.
A Jeter sac bunt moved Mesa into scoring position before the A’s intentionally walked Ichiro to set up a double play. A-Rod then stepped to the plate and delivered exactly what the Yankees needed with a single. Unfortunately, Mesa missed third base while attempting to round the bag and score. He had to race back to the bag, missing out on a chance to score the winning run. The poor guy would then be out at home on a force out in the next at bat, and after being so close to a win, the Yankees were now an out away from having to play a 15th inning.
It looked like we were headed there when Núñez grounded one to first base. Fortunately, Brandon Moss misplayed the ball and it ricocheted off his glove. Everyone reached safely, and Ichiro had crossed home, sealing a crazy 10-9, 14-inning Yankee win.
September 22, 2012— NY Yankees Throwbacks (@yankeethrowback) January 3, 2022
The Yankees walk off on an error in the 14th pic.twitter.com/R7qoIMXuwv
The win helped the Yankees continue a win streak, which they used to steady themselves and eventually pull off the AL East crown. Ibañez would be the hero of the day, going 3-for-4 with three RBI, including a home run worth 46 percent WPA. His heroics in the playoffs (and Game 161) would be more memorable, but this game would be a nice preview of what was yet to come.