9:31 am Oct. 11, 20121
As F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me."
The New York Yankees, the baseball embodiment of this truth, proved it again Wednesday night, beating the Baltimore Orioles, 3-2 to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five American League Division Series.
And they did it thanks to Raul Ibanez, the man who gives them the luxury of benching erstwhile All-Universe third baseman Alex Rodriguez with the game on the line.
Ibanez hit a pair of home runs off the bench, once in the ninth inning to tie the game after pinch-hitting for Rodriguez, the other in the 12th inning to win the game.
Every part of this victory, taken in the long view, speaks to Yankee abundance.
Let's start with Ibanez, part of the longstanding tradition of grizzled veterans who manage to contribute their last bit of greatness toward a winning Yankee cause. The reason this happens to the Yankees, far more than other teams, is not because the Yankees have discovered some magic formula that allows them to determine which 40-year-old outfielders can still play, and which cannot. It is because the Yankees, knowing reliance on those veterans, collect a bunch of them.
As it stands today, Raul Ibanez is a hero. Andruw Jones is not on the postseason roster. But the Yankees signed both of them this past winter, hoping to piece together bench production. In the case of Jones, a strong first half helped the Yankees run out to a large lead in the American League East; don't forget, it was ultimately that edge which produced home field advantage for the Yankees in Wednesday's game, along with the rest of the series.
But Jones faltered, while Ibanez ended the year on a hot streak. The Yankees even had veteran Ibanez insurance, trading for Ichiro Suzuki in late July while Ibanez slumped for much of the summer.
Last winter, Brian Cashman, the Yankees' general manager, didn't make his roster with Ibanez heroics as the plan. It was simply one of the outcomes produced by buying in bulk for what he wanted, which was veteran outfield offensive production; it just as easily could have been Jones hitting that home run in the eighth against a lefty reliever, from the vantage point of last winter.
This is how the Yankees manage to win so often. Every team would like to stock up like this; few have the resources to do so.
It was no different in the starting rotation. The Yankees acquired Hiroki Kuroda, the Game 3 starter who kept them close enough for Ibanez to shine, the same week they traded for Michael Pineda, who last spring was expected to start Game 2 of any eventual playoff series. It is very New York Yankees that they acquired both; just as much so that while Pineda didn't work out, they also had room for an Andy Pettitte to come pitch in his place, and produce a very impressive Game 2 of his own.
It wasn't that the Kuroda acquisition was brilliant, and the Pineda trade idiotic. One reinforced the other, and in an game with as much year-to-year uncertainty as baseball, the Yankees simply hedged their bets enough.
But again: few teams could afford to trade a player like Jesus Montero, knowing they had more catching prospects, the ability to replace him via free agency if necessary, and at the same time, pay Kuroda.
That they could do all this without worrying about the massive amount of money they are paying Alex Rodriguez, whose slump has barely slowed the Yankee push toward a championship, is simply further evidence of this abundance. Contracts far smaller than Rodriguez's, by definition (his is the richest in the sport), have felled other teams' efforts to improve the roster. Not the Yankees.
So the Ibanez home run was a seminal moment for an organization that has had so many of them. But it wasn't an aberration.
The rich are different than you and me. They have better pinch-hitters.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Chris Smith, J.R. Smith's brother, ended his long-shot bid to make the Knicks due to a knee injury.
The team opens its preseason schedule Thursday night in Washington.