NEW YORK — The highest-paid player in baseball could only sit and watch when Raul Ibanez pinch hit for him and tied the game with a bottom-of-the-ninth home run.
Alex Rodriguez had another good view from the dugout three innings later when Ibanez homered to win it.
Saved by manager Joe Girardi’s gutsy move — and Ibanez’s big swings — the New York Yankees rallied for a stunning 3-2 win in the 12th over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night for a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five AL division series.
“You’re going to be asked a lot of questions if it doesn’t work,” Girardi said.
The slumping Rodriguez, among the greatest power hitters in history, offered no complaint, telling Girardi: “Joe, you gotta do exactly what you gotta do.”
“Maybe 10 years ago I would have reacted in a much different way,” A-Rod said.
Ibanez then stepped up and hit a tying, solo shot to right-center with one out in the ninth off major league saves leader Jim Johnson to make it 2-all.
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.
Until he took him all the way out.
“You have to make some decisions sometimes that are tough decisions. I just had a gut feeling,” Girardi said.
Rodriguez has 647 career home runs — he’s chasing the all-time record of 762 by Barry Bonds — and is making $29 million this year. But was just 1 for 12 with no RBIs and seven strikeouts in this series when Girardi pulled him.
“It kind of caught me off-guard, hitting for a guy who’s half-a-billionaire,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said.
It was the first time Rodriguez had ever been pinch-hit for in a postseason game, according to STATS LLC.
And it worked.
Rodriguez immediately turned to injured Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, raised one arm, then both arms and traded high-fives with his star teammate. When Ibanez returned to the bench, Rodriguez was the first player to greet him.
“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.”
Ibanez remained in the game and connected on the first pitch from Brian Matusz in the 12th.
Ibanez became the first player to homer twice in a postseason game in which he didn’t start, STATS said.
Phil Hughes will try to clinch it for the Yankees on Thursday night in Game 4. Joe Saunders will start for Baltimore.
Baltimore had won 16 straight extra-inning games, and had been 76-0 when leading after seven, before the Yankees stung them.
“It was a great experience. We do it as a team. We stay after it,” Ibanez said. “I’m blessed to come up and have the opportunity like that. We do it together. it’s about a team and about winning.”
The brash, young Orioles appeared poised to move within a win of their first trip to the AL championship series since 1997 before the Yankees’ comeback.
Ibanez hit a 1-0 pitch into the seats in the ninth, setting off a raucous celebration in what had been a demoralized Yankee Stadium crowd.
After their 10-game July lead was cut to zero in early September, the Yankees repelled every Orioles charge. The teams were tied 10 times in the final month but New York ended up atop the division.
New York won the opener in Baltimore scoring five runs in the ninth off Johnson. The Orioles won Game 2 and rode Miguel Gonzalez’s pretty performance to a 2-1 lead in the ninth.
But the Yankees limited Baltimore to one hit after 20-year-old Manny Machado homered in the fifth. Ryan Flaherty homered earlier for the Orioles.
Robert Andino was doubled off second after leading off the Baltimore ninth with a single and advancing on a sacrifice.
Boone Logan got one out in relief of Hiroki Kuroda, who gave up two solo homers in 8 1-3 innings. Closer Rafael Soriano pitched 1 1-3 innings and David Robertson went two, finishing off his outing by bumping into and tagging Andino to end the top of the 12th.
Derek Jeter tied the score with an RBI triple in the third for the Yankees. Jeter, limping after fouling a ball off his foot, came out after eight innings. He says we will be able to play Thursday.
NOTES: Rivera threw out the ceremonial first pitch.