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October 12. 2012 9:49PM

Sabathia goes the distance, Yankees topple O's


New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia reacts after getting out of a bases loaded situation in the 8th inning of game five of the 2012 ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. (William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE)


The New York Yankees celebrate after defeating the Baltimore Orioles in Game 5 of their MLB ALDS baseball playoff series in New York, Oct. 12. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

NEW YORK — Raul Ibanez strapped the goggles to his face and shook a bottle of champagne in the middle of the Yankees clubhouse. A teammate doused him in bubbly and it soaked his bald head and pinstriped pants.

“That's all you can ask for,” Ibanez said.

Ten feet away, Alex Rodriguez danced. He too held a bottle and savored the moment he was prevented from creating. The Yankees defeated Baltimore, 3-1, on Friday night in the fifth game of an epic American League division series with their $275 million man benched and Ibanez, signed one day after spring training began, so pivotal.

Ibanez, 40 years old and in the twilight of a ringless career, can keep dreaming. The former Phillies outfielder assumed Rodriguez's spot in the lineup and exalted in the same stadium where his closest chance was dashed three years earlier.

The American League Championship Series with Detroit begins Saturday in the Bronx, and no one imagined the strange dichotomy between Ibanez and Rodriguez. Ibanez had four hits in this series, three of which scored runs. Rodriguez, twice pinch-hit for and subsequently benched, had two hits and nine strikeouts.

On Friday, C.C. Sabathia was brilliant; he threw 121 pitches for the Yankees' first postseason complete game since Roger Clemens in 2000.

No postseason has ever started with more drama. All four division series went the full five games for the first time in history. The five games played between Baltimore and New York were most emblematic.

Before the decisive Game 5, the two teams played 25 innings in 8 hours 2 minutes over two nights. The game-winning runs were scored by a 40-year-old outfielder and a 20-year-old infielder. The two teams met 22 times in 2012 before Game 5. Each side had won 11 games.

In the end, Baltimore's magic disappeared too soon.

A Yankee did not reach base until Mark Teixeira's leadoff single in the fifth. He lumbered to second for a stolen base. The spotlight again shone on Ibanez, who bounced one past a diving Robert Andino for the game's first run.

Yankee Stadium, barren at first pitch, had filled in and erupted. The scoreboard flashed “Raul is cool” and manager Joe Girardi was a genius again. Yankee Stadium may have been dormant Friday had it not been for his decision to pinch-hit Ibanez for Rodriguez in Game 3.

Luck played a role, too. Had Teixeira not swiped second, Ibanez's grounder would have been a routine double-play ball. Baltimore chose to play first baseman Mark Reynolds off the runner to increase his range. That permitted Teixeira, who had stolen 21 bases in 10 years, a colossal jump.

Ibanez played in part because Rodriguez was benched. Elevated from ninth in the order, Ibanez batted fifth Friday and served as designated hitter while fellow veteran Eric Chavez played third base.

Girardi made his decision at 1 p.m., before Rodriguez arrived to the ballpark. The manager phoned him to reveal his plan.

“It is difficult,” Girardi said. “He has meant a lot to the organization and the game of baseball over the years. And he has been a very productive hitter. But he struggled against righthanders in the series.”

“Obviously I'm not happy and obviously disappointed,” Rodriguez said. “You want to be in there in the worst way.”

He never batted Friday, not even when Buck Showalter dared Girardi by summoning a lefty to face Ibanez in the sixth. Rodriguez finished the series 2 for 16 with nine strikeouts.


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