NEW YORK The New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics pulled out stunning victories while the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisico Giants had more comfortable wins on Wednesday as all four Major League Baseball division series remained up for grabs.
New York's Raul Ibanez became the first man in history to hit two home runs in a playoff game he didn't start. But it was the circumstances that were the more remarkable, with his long shot in the ninth tying the game and his homer in the 12th providing the winner in a 3-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
In a bold move by Yankees manager Joe Girardi, Ibanez was brought in as a pinch-hitter to replace Alex Rodriguez, after baseball's highest-paid player continued to struggle at the plate.
"You're going to be asked a lot of questions if it doesn't work," Girardi said.
It worked alright, and gave New York a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series against the Orioles.
Ibanez homered with one out in the ninth inning off Baltimore closer Jim Johnson to tie the game 2-2. He then hit the first pitch from Brian Matusz leading off the 12th to win it.
Baltimore had won 16 straight extra-inning games, and had been 76-0 when leading after seven, before the Yankees stung them.
"It was a great experience. We do it as a team. We stay after it," Ibanez said. "I'm blessed to come up and have the opportunity like that. We do it together. It's about a team and about winning."
CBSSports.com baseball insider Danny Knobler wonders if the struggling A-Rod will get another chance to bat in the heart of the order.
"Should he get the chance, when he so clearly wasn't the best option for the Yankees with a season on the line?" Knobler writes. "Girardi tried so hard to show faith in A-Rod Wednesday. He resisted all the outside calls to drop him out of the third spot in the batting order. He watched him go to the plate three times, make three outs, and inspire boos from the Yankee Stadium fans three times."
The closeness of Wednesday's game mirrored the tight battle between the two teams all season. After their 10-game July lead was cut to zero in early September, the Yankees repelled every Orioles charge to snatch the American League East division title. The teams were tied 10 times in the final month but New York ended up top.
Phil Hughes will start for the Yankees on Thursday in Game 4. Chris Tillman or Joe Saunders will start for Baltimore.
Oakland's 4-3 win at home over the Detroit Tigers, squaring the series 2-2, was equally dramatic. Needing a win to stay alive in the series, the A's trailed 3-1 going into the bottom of the ninth facing fearsome Tigers closer Jose Valverde.
Oakland, the smallest-payroll team in the majors, have come back from the dead repeatedly this season and they did it again, hitting a single and two doubles to tie the game, setting up Coco Crisp's two-out RBI single that won it.
The A's rode 14 walkoff wins in the regular season to an improbable AL West title. Those paled in significance and drama compared to No. 15, which set up an all-or-nothing Game 5.
Josh Reddick started the ninth-inning rally with a single just under the glove of the diving second baseman. Josh Donaldson followed with a double off the wall in left-center and both runners scored on Seth Smith's double. Two outs later, Crisp lined a single to right and Smith scored easily when Avisail Garcia overran the ball when racing in to field it.
"It's amazing," Crisp said. "The guys in front of me obviously did a fantastic job of getting on base. ... This club, we've been battling the whole year, giving 100 percent, and these walkoffs have been our MO this year."
The Cardinals had a much easier time of it, cruising past the Washington Nationals 8-0 to take a 2-1 series lead. Chris Carpenter held the hosts scoreless into the sixth inning and rookie Pete Kozma delivered a three-run homer.
It was quite a damper on the day for a Nationals Park-record 45,017 fans witnessing the first major league postseason game in the nation's capital in 79 years.
The Cardinals won 10 fewer games than the majors-best Nationals this season and finished second in the NL Central, sneaking into the postseason as the league's second wild-card. But the Cardinals become a different bunch in the high-pressure playoffs.
Pitcher Carpenter is one reason, even though even he didn't expect to be pitching this year when he encountered problems during spring training and needed a radical operation in July to correct a nerve problem.
"To go from not being able to compete, and not only compete but help your team, to be able to be in this situation," Carpenter said, "it's pretty cool."
The Nationals' hitters are struggling mightily. They've scored a total of just seven runs in the playoffs and went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base.
In Thursday's Game 4 at Washington. Kyle Lohse will start for St. Louis. Ross Detwiler pitches for Washington, which is sticking to its long-stated plan of keeping ace Stephen Strasburg on the sideline for the entire playoffs to protect him from overwork on a surgically-repaired throwing arm.
San Francisco, which needed extra innings to win Game 3 and stay alive, squared its series against the Cincinnati Reds with an 8-3 victory. In Game 5 on Thursday, the Giants have a shot at the unique achievement of winning three straight road games to overturn a 2-0 deficit in a five-game series.
In Cincinnati, San Francisco beat the Reds 8-3 to level the series at 2-2. In Thursday's decider, the Giants will attempt to become the first team to win three straight road games to win a five-game series after trailing 2-0.
Angel Pagan led off the game for the Giants with a home run, Gregor Blanco hit a two-run shot in the second and Pablo Sandoval Sandoval also had a two-run homer in the seventh to complete a strong performance by the visitors.
San Francisco's Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young winner relegated to the bullpen, also delivered. He entered in the fourth with the Giants ahead 3-2, struck out six while giving up just one run in 4 1-3 innings, and allowed his team to pull away.
The Reds still have not won a home playoff game since 1995. They had hoped to start ace Johnny Cueto, but had to drop him off the roster a few hours before Wednesday's first pitch because he was still bothered by a strained muscle in his right side. He won't be available if Cincinnati wins Game 5 and reaches the NL championship series.
Mike Leake, who replaced Cueto, had a rough time.
The Giants will start Game 5 against Cincinnati with Matt Cain, who lost the series opener and has yet to beat the Reds in three tries this season.