In the Yankees' dugout Friday night, a hero and a goat stood side by side, too nervous to move. Raul Ibañez watched behind a line of teammates standing on the top rail. Nick Swisher had him in his grasp as CC Sabathia attempted to finally dispense of the gritty Orioles.
"Swish was like holding on to me real tight," Ibañez said, recalling the final outs of the Yankees' 3-1 win in Game 5 of the ALDS. "At one point, he kind of had me in a little bit of a chokehold like in between the outs or something. But it's definitely an intense moment."
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Soon after, Ibañez scrambled to the other side of the dugout to retrieve his ball cap. He had been too superstitious to touch it during the ninth. But with the final out made and the Yankees advancing to the ALCS, Ibañez believed it was finally safe.
The way the Yankees' offense failed to produce in five tense games, the feeling of safety was rare. But thanks to Ibañez, his teammates will have a chance for redemption.
Even before the Yankees squeezed out another difficult victory, hitting coach Kevin Long hoped his struggling lineup would get an opportunity to break out. In five games against the Orioles, the Yankees hit just .211 as a team. They struck out 47 times and drew only 17 walks.
Alex Rodriguez wasn't the only culprit. Swisher finished the series hitting .111. Curtis Granderson hit .158. Russell Martin was at . 176 and Ichiro Suzuki at .217. Robinson Cano, who finished the regular season on a 24-for-39 tear and arguably is the team's best offensive player, finished at .091.
But Granderson turned it around in Game 5 with his first homer of the postseason. Ibañez followed his dramatic two-homer performance in Game 3 by knocking in the first run of Game 5. He finished the series hitting .444.
"The past is the past," Long said. "We're worried about today. If we can move on from today, I've seen our guys roll at times this year and I've got to believe it's in there. And that's the way I look at it."