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Heading into Tuesday night's game with the Red Sox, the Yankees had gone 0-58 this season when trailing after eight innings.
It looked like they were destined to make it 0-59 on Tuesday night. The Yankees spent the entire night putting runners on base and then failing to capitalize on scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity.
It was an old story this season, but one that felt freshly painful as the Orioles were eking out a 1-0 win in Tampa despite striking out 15 times against James Shields of the Rays. Every one of those failed scoring chances loomed exceedingly large as it looked more and more like the Yankees were going to make sure their shot at winning the division without a 163rd game would rely on the kindness of Tampa on Wednesday.
And then Raul Ibanez happened. Ibanez, who hit one of the biggest homers of the year in that mad extra inning win over the A's in September, pinch hit for Eduardo Nunez in the ninth against Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey and finally delivered a big hit with a runner on base.
Ibanez crushed his 19th home run of the season to right field, tying the score at three and putting life into a Yankee Stadium devoid of it on a damp night larded with Yankee disappointment. There was serious energy as a Derek Jeter double and two walks loaded the bases with one out, but the old troubles resurfaced as Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano couldn't bring the runs home.
Teixeira coming up before Cano was a bone of contention all night as Joe Girardi decided to shuffle the lineup and got paid back with two double plays and Tex's failure to get the winning run home at that point. Based on the Win Probability Added metric, it was the worst offensive game of Teixeira's career and it certainly felt that way while watching the game unfold.
Those failures and the decision to throw Rafael Soriano for a season-high 44 pitches would be used to hoist Girardi up on his own petard if the Yankees lost and faced the crucible of Wednesday. The batting order swap didn't make much sense, but the Soriano usage shouldn't be fodder for second-guessing because he was the best pitcher the Yankees had available at that point in a game they needed to win.
Thanks to his choice of Ibanez, there will be no petard hoisting. Francisco Cervelli, hitting in the big leagues for the first time all season, and Curtis Granderson worked walks with two out in the 12th inning and Ibanez came through again with a single through the left side of the infield against the left-handed Andrew Miller.
Cervelli sprinted home and the Yankees celebrated a 4-3 win that put their playoff fate firmly in their own hands. Win on Wednesday and the division belongs to them regardless of what the Orioles might do against the Rays. Hard to ask for much more than that given the way the season has unfolded.
And, disappointing as the loss of the big division lead might be, it's hard to ask for much more on the entertainment scale than the Yankees have provided the last three or four weeks. The Yankees might have wound up clinching the division a week ago in a more perfect world, but, from a viewing standpoint, this has been a lot more fun and it's left a new respect for the resiliency of a Yankee team that seemed short on it for much of the season.