David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
As thrilled as Raul Ibañez was to rescue the Yankees not once, but twice in Tuesday night's pulse-pounding 4-3 win over the Red Sox, there was another person wearing pinstripes who might have had him beat.
The understated Ibañez, who entered as a pinch hitter to smack a tying, two-run homer in the ninth inning and later delivered the winning single in the 12th, pretty much took the whole thing in stride.
That even-tempered approach is what makes Ibañez such a lethal weapon in those clutch situations, and also allows him to pick up guys like Mark Teixeira, who stranded eight runners by himself during his 0-for-6 night.
"I guarantee you I'm the happiest person on the team right now," Teixeira said afterward. "I told Raul 'Thank you' about 100 times."
The Yankees should be lining up behind Teixeira to express that same sentiment to Ibañez, who back on Sept. 22 slugged two homers -- also coming in as a pinch-hitter -- to help beat the Athletics in 14 innings. As big as that victory was, it doesn't quite measure up to Tuesday night's win, which kept the Yankees a crucial one game up on the Orioles with only one left to play.
"It was awesome to be a part of something like that, to contribute, especially at a time like this," Ibañez said. "I think it shows the character of this team. We're a bunch of resilient guys that fight."
Not for the first eight innings, they didn't. With Jon Lester starting for the Red Sox, Joe Girardi decided to get a little too cute with the lineup and chose to use Teixeira in the cleanup spot rather than the scorching-hot Robinson Cano, who entered the game on an 18-for-29 (.621) roll and a string of seven multihit games.
This was only Teixeira's second game back after missing the past month with a calf strain and Girardi must have been persuaded by seeing him go deep the previous night off Clay Buchholz. If only Girardi had reversed his thinking on that one.
In his first two at-bats, Teixeira came to the plate with runners at first and third with one out and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play each time. His grounder to short in the fifth inning also would have resulted in a double play, but there already were two outs.
Even in the 12th, Teixeira led off with a routine ground ball to third. So he had a good view of Ibañez's winner.
"That was amazing," Teixeira said. "He's my favorite player for a lot of reasons right now."
Teixeira's futility meant Cano, the Yankees' most lethal hitter at the moment, was forced to lead off in his first three trips to the plate. As luck would have it, Cano singled in two of them -- including once off Rich Hill, making him 7-for-8 against lefthanders during his recent streak. But even Cano came up empty in the 12th inning, striking out against lefty reliever Andrew Miller.
Instead, it was left for the Ibañez, 40, to play the hero, a role that he's not unfamiliar with. The winning single was his 11th career "walk-off" hit and first since 2011 with the Phillies. He also established his place in Yankees lore by becoming the first player with an RBI to tie or put the Yankees ahead in both the ninth and extra innings of a game since Bernie Williams in 2001.
Making history is nice. But for Ibañez, there is a more immediate goal in mind. What he did late Tuesday night allowed the Yankees to maintain control of their own destiny. They'd be happy to put that destiny in the hands of Ibañez whenever necessary.
"It's kind of a whirlwind right now," Ibañez said. "But the moment's behind us. Tomorrow is a new day."