NEW YORK (AP) — Down by a run in an all-even AL division series, Joe Girardi approached Alex Rodriguez and told baseball's highest-paid player he was going to pinch hit for him.
Bold move, benching one of the game's great sluggers.
"I just had a gut feeling," the Yankees manager said. "I just went to him and I said, 'You're scuffling a little bit right now, we have got a low-ball hitter and we've got a shorter porch in right field then left field obviously — Raul (Ibanez) has been a good pinch hitter for us, and I'm just going to take a shot.'"
The audacious decision worked.
Ibanez homered in the ninth, then again in the 12th, rallying New York to a stunning 3-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night for a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five series.
The slumping Rodriguez offered no complaint, telling Girardi: "Joe, you gotta do exactly what you gotta do."
Injured saves leader Mariano Rivera went to Rodriguez in the dugout after seeing Ibanez head for the on-deck circle.
"I told Alex not to worry, that Raul was going to hit a home run," Rivera said.
And Rivera was right next to A-Rod when Ibanez lined Jim Johnson's 1-0 pitch into the right field stands. Rodriguez threw his arms into the air and then exchanged high-fives with Rivera. When Ibanez returned to the bench, Rodriguez was the first player to greet him.
"There was no one happier than me, one of the best performances I have ever seen," Rodriguez said.
Yankees fans had been howling this week for Girardi to drop Rodriguez out of the No. 3 spot in the batting order. But Girardi was reluctant to move his fading slugger down in the lineup.