Somehow, the Yankees stayed in the driver's seat for the AL East title. And they have Raul Ibañez to thank.
Trailing by two going into the ninth Tuesday night against the Red Sox, the 40-year-old Ibañez, already with his share of big, late-inning hits this season, came up with another one.
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He hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer off Andrew Bailey to tie it at 3 in the ninth, then drove in Francisco Cervelli with a two-out single to leftfield in the 12th, giving the Yankees a 4-3 victory at the Stadium.
"It was awesome to be a part of something like that," Ibañez said.
A loss would have left the Yankees (94-67) tied with the Orioles, who beat the Rays, 1-0, with one game to play. Instead, if the Yankees, who were 0-58 this season when trailing after eight innings, beat the Red Sox Wednesday night or the Orioles lose, the Bombers will clinch the East.
A loss combined with an Orioles victory would require a one-game playoff in Baltimore Thursday for the division title, with the loser headed for the undesirable one-game, wild-card playoff.
"It's extremely important because you want to be able to do that," Joe Girardi said of the Yankees' ability to control their destiny. "If you win, you win the division, that's the bottom line. And we have a chance to have the best record [in the league], and that's the bottom line. It's a good feeling that you can control that."
Cervelli, getting his first playing time since being called up Sept. 1, came in after the Yankees had already used Russell Martin and Chris Stewart. He worked a walk against lefthander Andrew Miller with two outs in the 12th. Curtis Granderson walked and Ibañez hit a grounder the other way, driving in Cervelli to win it.
"I told Raul thank you, about a hundred times," said Mark Teixeira, who without Ibañez unquestionably would have been the goat. "He's my favorite player for a lot of reasons right now."
Girardi couldn't be second-guessed for his decision to start rookie David Phelps, who allowed two runs -- both in the first inning -- and three hits in 51/3 innings. But where Girardi did leave himself open to the second guess was batting Teixeira cleanup and the scorching Robinson Cano fifth.
Cano was 2-for-6, improving his hot streak to 20-for-35, and Teixeira 0-for-6. The first baseman, in his second game back since returning from a left calf strain, grounded into two 6-4-3 double plays, each with runners on the corners and one out.
"It doesn't matter where you're hitting, and I just came up in a lot of spots where I should have gotten the job done and I didn't," Teixeira said. "It's very frustrating, but I guarantee I'm the happiest guy on the team right now because it could not have gone worse for me personally, but we won."
In the ninth, after Rafael Soriano allowed James Loney's homer to put the Red Sox up 3-1, the Yankees finally produced. Granderson led off with a single and Ibañez, batting for Eduardo Nuñez, hit a 1-and-2 pitch into the first row in right, tying it at 3 with his 19th home run.
After Ichiro Suzuki grounded out, Derek Jeter doubled to right and Nick Swisher was walked intentionally. Bailey walked Alex Rodriguez to load the bases and Bobby Valentine called on Mark Melancon to face Teixeira. He broke his bat and popped to short centerfield. Cano grounded out to end the inning.
It was another blown scoring chance in a game full of them, but the Yankees won. They will play No. 162 Wednesday night a victory away from accomplishing the No. 1 regular-season goal set in the spring.
"It's exciting," Teixeira said. "We have a chance to win a game to win our division. If you told us in spring training, you guys are going to have a chance, at home, to win the division, would you take it? We probably would."