All season long, I’ve been writing about the Chicago Cubs. They’ve been my team since I was a little kid, and my interest in baseball stems from them. I haven’t embraced fantasy baseball as much as most people because I just can’t follow players on teams I don’t care about. Call me strange if you want to.
I say all this because Joe Girardi, the manager of the New York Yankees, was originally a Cubs player in the late 1980s. He’s played other places, too, but he’s someone I’ll always take interest in because of his Cubs past, and his status as an alum of my alma mater, Northwestern University. If you didn’t already know that Girardi has an engineering degree from NU, you know it now.
Maybe those engineering credentials were what caused him to send in Raul Ibanez for game three against the Orioles. Not only did Girardi send the right batter into the game, as evidenced by Ibanez’ heroics in the ninth inning and again in the 12th, but he sent in a pinch-hitter for Alex Rodriguez, who will probably end up as baseball’s all-time home run king at some point in the future. To say that took some guts is a tremendous understatement.
For his part, A-Rod had made Girardi’s move plausible by going 1-for-12 in the series to that point. He was o-for-3 with two strikeouts on the night already, and it wouldn’t take much imagination to see him failing again in the ninth inning.
The series was hanging in the balance for the Yankees as A-Rod was scheduled to bat. A loss would put them in a 2-1 hole, which would be difficult to climb out of, even at home. Not to say that they couldn’t do it, but their margin for error would have been wiped away completely if the Orioles held on to win.
And still, the scheduled hitter in the ninth inning was the highest-paid, most well-known player that baseball has seen over the past two decades. The Yankees signed A-Rod and gave him lots of money to come through in situations like that one. Taking the bat out of his hands would have been seen as a foolhardy thing to do, if things had turned out any way other way than they actually did.
At 40 years of age, Ibanez is one of the oldest veterans around. Perhaps that’s why Girardi trusted him to go up to the plate against the Orioles’ Jim Johnson with the game — and possibly the entire season — on the line. Whatever it was, Girardi has now, with one managerial decision, written a special chapter in Yankees postseason history. I’m confident that even A-Rod himself would agree.