Raul Ibanez was never supposed to be the hero for the Yankees in Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS against the Orioles.
But thanks to a gutsy move by Joe Girardi -- pinch-hitting Ibanez for the slumping Alex Rodriguez with one out in the ninth inning and Yankees trailing by a run –- the 40-year-old etched his name among the pinstriped immortals with a couple swings of the bat.
The Yankees and Orioles had split the first two games of the best-of-five series, giving added significance to this critical Game 3 at Yankee Stadium. The loser would be on the brink of elimination, the winner would be one step away from advancing to the ALCS.
The Orioles struck first with a solo homer by rookie second baseman Ryan Flaherty in the top of the third inning, but the Yankees quickly answered back in the bottom of the frame when Derek Jeter tripled home Russell Martin to tie the score at 1-1.
Manny Machado put the Orioles on top again with a home run leading off the fifth inning, giving Baltimore what appeared to be an insurmountable 2-1 lead as the Yankee bats went cold through the first eight innings.
When the Yankees entered the ninth inning still down a run, a rally seemed nearly impossible against an Orioles team that had gone 74-0 when leading after seven innings in the regular season. It also didn't help that the three batters due up for the Yankees -- Ichiro, A-Rod and Robinson Cano -- were a combined 0 for 9 in the game.
After Ichiro lined out to left field for the first out, Girardi made one of boldest decisions in Yankees history. He kept A-Rod -- a guy that had 647 home runs on the back of his baseball card -- in the dugout, and instead sent Ibanez to face Jim Johnson with the game on the line. It was an unprecedented move, the first time that Rodriguez had been pinch hit for in a postseason game.
With the stadium buzzing following this most unpredictable move, Ibanez stepped up to the plate and took Johnson deep on the second pitch of the at-bat, tying the game at 2-2 and sending the Yankee Stadium crowd into an absolute frenzy.
Ibanez etched his name in the franchise record books with that sweet swing, becoming the first Yankee ever to hit a game-tying pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning or later of a postseason game.
But his record-breaking heroics wouldn't end there.
Three innings later, Ibanez drilled a homer to deep right off Brian Matusz on the first pitch he saw, giving the Yankees one of the most improbable comeback wins in their long and storied history.
Not only did the 40-year-old likely save the Yankees season with his two dramatic longballs, he also made a bit of major-league history on that special October night in the Bronx.
Ibanez was the first player ever to homer in the ninth inning and extra innings of the same postseason game, and also became the oldest player to hit a walk-off postseason homer.
Although Ibanez played just that lone season in New York, he remains a true legend in the hearts of Yankee fans everywhere, and has cemented himself as one of the more unlikely postseason heroes in franchise history.