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25 Best Yankees Playoff Games of the Past 25 Years: Raúl, so cool

A solid pitcher’s duel unraveled into a game ultimately known for a pair of homers from an unlikely hero.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees - Game Three

After a split of the first two games in Baltimore, Game 3 of the Division Series was a big one. The division champion Yankees sent the reliable Hiroki Kuroda to the mound facing off against the Cinderella story of baseball in 2012: the Wild Card-winning Orioles. It was a game that would swing the series, one that featured surprising managerial moves, huge homers, and some excellent pitching throughout.

2012 ALDS Game 3 - October 10

Final Score: Yankees 3, Orioles 2

Game MVP: Raúl Ibañez

This was the first year in the Bronx for Kuroda, and he did an excellent job. He pitched to the tune of a 3.32 ERA over 219.2 innings, more than any other Yankee in 2012. Nearly a decade his junior, Miguel Gonzalez toed the rubber for Baltimore; he was a rookie who did a nice job (3.25/4.38 ERA/FIP) over 105.1 innings. It’s not the most glamourous matchup, but in a game remembered for home runs, this was a solid pitcher’s duel.

The O’s went down with the minimum to start the game, thanks to a Nate McLouth caught stealing (this is a great game for remembering guys), and things remained quiet for both teams through the first two innings.

It didn’t last forever though — in the top of the third O’s rookie Ryan Flaherty took a spinning slider from Kuroda into the short porch in right, giving Baltimore an early 1-0 lead. The Yankees didn’t take long to answer back fortunately, as Russell Martin started things in the third with a double down the line in left. Two batters later, Derek Jeter slashed a ball into center that seemed to refuse to land, eventually carrying over the head of Adam Jones. Martin scored and Jeter slid into third with a game-tying triple.

In the fourth, Baltimore threatened again by loading the bases. With two outs, Flaherty came up with another chance to take the lead, but he grounded back to the mound allowing Kuroda to work out of the jam.

An inning later with the Orioles up again, a 20-year-old Manny Machado wasted no time, launching the first pitch he saw into his team’s bullpen to retake the lead. It feels hard to believe he’s been around that long, but Machado made quite the impact even then.

There was no more noise for either squad throughout the remainder of the fifth or sixth innings. With one out in the sixth, Alex Rodriguez struck out for a second time with a runner on, to a chorus of boos. It brought him to 1-for-12 in in the series with seven strikeouts ... we’ll come back to this.

The seventh was much the same, wrapping up with two more strikeouts from Gonzalez, which concluded a really impressive seven-inning, one-run, eight-K game for the rookie. All the while the boo birds stayed out. For the Yanks, Kuroda remained out there for the eighth, and set down Baltimore in order, while Darren O’Day did the same in the bottom half.

After a nice play from Mark Teixeira, Kuroda’s day was done. With only two mistakes to speak of, he left with 8.1 innings of two-run ball. Boone Logan and Rafael Soriano closed out the frame and set the scene for a dramatic bottom of the ninth.

With one out and the struggling A-Rod due up, Joe Girardi sent 40-year-old Raúl Ibañez up to pinch-hit. The one-time All-Star watched a pitch, and then cashed in on the next one, swatting it into the right field seats to tie the game at two, sending fans and the home dugout into a frenzy.

Despite Ibañez’s recent regular-season heroics, I remember Girardi’s call being a shocking move even at the time, but knowing what we know, it was a good one.

Onto the top of the 10th, in which the O’s got a runner in scoring position. McLouth promisingly lined a ball up the middle, but into the glove of a well-positioned Jayson Nix, who then stepped on the bag for an unassisted double play. David Robertson and Brian Matusz would each pitch clean 11th innings for both teams, and Robertson did the same in the 12th.

Now in the bottom of the 12th, who else would lead off other than Ibañez? This time around, he didn’t feel the need to see a pitch. He got a high fastball from the southpaw Matusz, turned it around and deposited it into the second deck.

Ernie Johnson Jr. was always an announcer better equipped for the court than the diamond, but hell if he didn’t nail the absolute incredulity of this moment.

It was a blast that sent Yankee fans home in both shock and euphoria, and also gave New York a crucial series lead. Ibañez did not start this game, as he pinch-hit for an all-time great in crunch time. He saw three pitches, put two of them in the seats (the second of which was his first bomb against a lefty all year long), and almost single-handedly won this game for the Yankees. Raúl Ibañez was an improbable hero, and he gave the Yankees and their fans one of the most memorable and thrilling games in recent memory.