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News » Thanks to Ibanez, Phils walk off with a win

Thanks to Ibanez, Phils walk off with a win

Thanks to Ibanez, Phils walk off with a win
EARLY YESTERDAY evening, after most of his teammates had already slipped out of their uniforms and into the Sunday dusk, Raul Ibanez emerged from a set of double doors in the Phillies' clubhouse wearing gym shorts and sneakers and socks pulled up to just below his knees.If anybody deserved a day off from his strenuous postgame workout routine, it was the veteran leftfielder, who an hour earlier had lifted the Phillies to a 5-4 victory over the Padres with a two-run home run in the ninth inning, salvaging a game that for 7 1/2 innings looked destined for their fourth consecutive loss.But long after the 2-0 changeup from Edwin Moreno cleared the rightfield wall and the shaving-cream pie had been wiped from his face and the reporters and their various recording instruments had cleared the clubhouse, Ibanez remained."For me to function, I just kind of have to prepare and do my thing and ignore everything else," he said as he stood in front of his locker, dressed shoes and street clothes still stored inside. "It's kind of the way I try to operate."It is a personal philosophy that has shaped his approach ever since a session with Harvey Dorfman in 2000. The renowned sports psychologist challenged the outfielder to ignore the existential noises that can cloud a player's mind and instead focus solely on Baseball.At 28, Ibanez was far older than the typical Baseball prospect.

He had spent the majority of the previous season on the Mariners' active roster, but in four major league seasons had compiled just 518 plate appearances with a middling .241 batting average and 14 home runs.A 36th-round draft pick in 1992, his path to the big leagues was not paved in gold, and throughout his rise through the Mariners' system, he found himself preoccupied with worry about factors outside of his control."Coming up, I was concerned about what the manager thought, what the coaches thought, what the front office thought, what the media and the fans thought," Ibanez said. "When I was younger coming up, trying to become a big-league player and trying to play regularly, I was really concerned with external stuff."This brings us to yesterday's events, when Ibanez shook off two early miscues - an attempted sliding catch in the third inning that resulted in a triple and led to two runs, and his groundout to the pitcher with one out and a runner on third - to hit his fifth home run of the season.In many ways, the first 11 games of the 2009 season have served as Ibanez' introduction to a fan base that was somewhat uneasy when the Phillies decided to sign the 36-year-old free agent to a 3-year, $31.5 million contract in the offseason. He had spent the first 13 seasons of his career playing well out of the limelight, spending 3 years in Kansas City, which is Baseball's third-smallest media market, and the other 10 in Seattle, which is about as far as a professional Baseball team can get from ESPN's home in Bristol, Conn., without playing in Puget Sound.Ibanez has worked quickly to quell any hesitation that existed when the Phillies chose to replace Pat Burrell with a lefthanded hitting 36-year-old. His 2-for-4 showing yesterday raised his average to .a team-high .386, and his game-winning blast gave him 10 RBI.But even after his heroics yesterday, with the remnants of a postgame shaving-cream pie still caked to the inside of his left ear, Ibanez shrugged off the notion that he was somehow opening Philadelphia's eyes to the potential of the post-Burrell era."That's the external stuff," he said. "You've got to try to keep out external noise and try to stay focused on one thing. It's really no different from anything else. Once you operate that way, then it kind of becomes your mechanism, the way you do stuff."The words are much like the ones manager Charlie Manuel used to assess his team's chances moving forward, when they attempt to use a stretch of 10 consecutive games to trim their 5 1/2-game deficit behind the Marlins in the National League East.The victory over the Padres came in what might be described as their first post-Harry Kalas and post-World Series home game. Their first five games at Citizens Bank Park - and, really, their first 10 of the season - were a study in emotional extremes. Four of the first five home games featured either a pregame celebration of the 2008 championship or a pregame tribute to their late broadcaster. Mixed in with the first 2 weeks were two opposing home openers - in Colorado and in Washington ? and the passing of Kalas, whose was laid to rest Saturday after 2 days of solemn ceremonies.Yesterday, however, a sense of normalcy returned, complete with a pregame celebration of the Phillie Phanatic's birthday. Righthander Chan Ho Park allowed four runs in five innings and became the 11th consecutive starter to allow at least one home run, but lefthander J.A. Happ pitched three scorless innings of relief - recording two pivotal strikeouts in the sixth inning to strand runners at second and third ? and Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins hit big home runs to set the stage for Ibanez' game-winner."I feel like we have to get back on course and take our one-day-at-a-time [mentality] and put last year behind us," Manuel said. "We played last year very organized and we kept with our game plan. We didn't get ahead of ourselves and we didn't gloat and overdo the fact of our success. I think it's time for us to settle in and start playing real Baseball."The contributions of a player like Ibanez will help. The home run was the fourth walkoff shot of his career, and his first in a Phillies uniform. And after a brief stop at his locker yesterday evening, as Phillies clubhouse attendants hurried to prepare the room for the following day's game, he walked back toward those double doors and disappeared, sneakers still laced, socks still high. *For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 20, 2009

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