Raul Ibanez adds True Yankee plaque to mantel full of Tom Morello lookalike contest trophies

Years ago, one particularly incessant SNY.tv reader used to email me practically every time a player whose inclusion on the Mets’ roster I railed against did anything positive on a baseball field. If Marlon Anderson slapped a ground-ball single up the middle, seconds later I’d find in my inbox a subject-free message from this guy asking only, “What do you think of Marlon Anderson NOW!?” Stuff like that. Shawn Green makes a sliding catch, I get an email. Robinson Cancel somehow reaches first base safely, email. All the time. It was endlessly frustrating, but still somehow entertaining.

He gave it up around the time I started this blog; I suspect he just never joined me in the venture over from the network’s proper website, but I hope for his sake he found something more productive to do with his time. Maybe he fell in love. I don’t know. I kind of miss him.

Still, in the bottom of ninth inning of last night’s Yankees-Orioles tilt, when Raul Ibanez — a player frequently linked to the Mets during Omar Minaya’s hapless, years-long quest for capable corner outfielders and an option I frequently denounced — homered to tie the game while pinch-hitting for Alex Rodriguez against Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, I immediately checked my email to see if it was enough to prompt a comeback. I did so again after Ibanez hit a walk-off homer on the first pitch of the bottom of the 12th. No dice.

There are plenty of reminders of Ibanez’s unlikely heroics on the Internet and in the local newspapers this morning. Many of them — especially in the tabloids — focus on his production in A-Rod’s absence.

But despite the outcome, and leaving aside Rodriguez’s mostly baseless reputation for postseason struggles, Joe Girardi’s decision to pinch-hit Ibanez for Rodriguez against a right-hander with the game on the line should hardly seem indefensible.

Rodriguez is one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, but Joe Girardi had to manage to win the game in a short postseason series. And Rodriguez, for as dominant a hitter as he was in his prime, has not been immune to the effects of aging. After posting a stellar 153 park- and league-adjusted OPS+ over a ten-season run from 2000 to 2009, A-Rod has sported an only pretty-good 118 number in the same stat since the start of the 2010 season as nagging injuries began to take their toll on his offense.

This season, Rodriguez especially struggled against right-handers, sporting only a .256/.326/.391 line for the season. Since Ibanez posted .248/.319/.492 marks in the same split and the Yankees’ next four hitters all batted left-handed or from both sides of the plate, Girardi had pretty strong justification for the substitution beyond Rodriguez’s reputation for October choke-jobs. Maybe it was even in the much-reviled binder somewhere.

That’s what seems too often lost in discussions of whether the Yankees should drop Rodriguez from his third spot in the batting order this postseason (beyond, of course, research showing that the effects of batting order are wildly overrated): He’s not their best hitter anymore. Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, and Mark Teixeira all outperformed A-Rod at the plate this season. Certainly Rodriguez should earn some benefit of the doubt for the 647 home runs on his resume, but time could hardly care less, and seems more bent on debilitating A-Rod than it is Jeter or Ibanez.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out for the next five years of Rodriguez’s contract.

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