NEW YORK – Told he was batting second in the ninth inning, Raul Ibanez turned to Yankees teammate Eduardo Nunez.
"I asked who was hitting, and it was Alex, so I assumed something was going on," Ibanez said. "I didn't know what was happening, and then I just tried to put it behind me and get a good pitch to hit."
Turned out to be one of the nights of his life.
Ibanez pinch hit for Alex Rodriguez and went on to become the first player in major league history to homer twice in a postseason game he didn't start. His tying drive in the ninth inning and a winning shot in the 12th gave New York a 3-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday and a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five AL division series.
Quite a month for the bald, well-spoken 40-year-old, who left the division-clinching celebration early last week when his wife gave birth to son Luca.
"I'm a very blessed man. I have a healthy baby boy and my wife is healthy, my children are healthy," Ibanez said. "And then getting an opportunity to play for this great team, great franchise, and being in that situation and having it work out that way is a great blessing."
When spring training started last February, Ibanez still was searching for a team. He signed for $1.1 million and wound up earning another $2.05 million for reaching 425 plate appearances. He hit .240 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs, but the numbers alone don't tell the story.
Including the playoffs, Ibanez has four home runs that tied the score for the Yankees and eight that put New York ahead. He also homered twice after entering as a pinch hitter on Sept. 22 in a 10-9, 14-inning win over Oakland. And with New York fighting for the AL East title, he hit a tying pinch homer against Boston in the ninth on Oct. 2 and then singled in the winning run in the 12th.
And now he has his own edition of Yankees Classics.
"I just had a gut feeling," manager Joe Girardi said.
Ibanez tied the game at 2 when he drove a 94 mph fastball from Jim Johnson over right-center field scoreboard with one out in the ninth.
It was the fifth time the Yankees hit a tying home run in the ninth inning or later of an extra-inning game that New York went on to win. The others were Tino Martinez in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, Scott Brosius the following night, Rodriguez in Game 2 of the 2009 division series and A-Rod in Game 2 of that year's AL championship series. (Elston Howard in 1957 and Tom Tresh in 1964 hit tying homers in games the Yankees went on to lose.)
In the 12th, Ibanez sent a 91 mph pitch from Brian Matusz into the right field second deck.
"I think the tendency late in the game when the game is tied is, I think as players, we try to do a little too much," Ibanez said. "I was trying to fight that feeling, trying not to do too much."
Ibanez's teammates had trouble digesting the inconceivable.
"It seemed like it was something out of a cartoon," Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda said through a translator. "It was unbelievable."