Ibanez takes the high road

image from fingerfood.typepad.com NEW YORK – Raul Ibanez was a quote machine after Thursday night’s victory over the Mets at Citi Field. That’s a good thing. Always engaging and humble, Ibanez was quick to point out how his game-winning home run was just the icing on the cake. The credit, he said, belonged to Shane Victorino and Chase Utley for getting on base to start off the 10th inning.

Needless to say, Ibanez’s humility is as high as his slugging percentage.

But has there ever been a player new to town to ingratiate himself so fully to the team so quickly as Ibanez? It really feels like he has been here for years the way he fit right in with the Phillies. Charlie Manuel says Ibanez has “a lot of Utley in him,” only, ahem, more engaging. “Laughable,” the manager put it. That’s not to say Utley isn’t engaging, he just goes out of his way to be as boring as possible.

There has been very little boring about Ibanez this year. Though he had four rough plate appearances before his 10th inning homer, including a pair of strikeouts (his 10th multi-strikeout game of the year), one had to have the feeling that the mini-swoon would not last. Pity the poor Mets who walked into a swarm of bees in that fifth at-bat.

Here’s the thing that was so interesting – Ibanez knew something good was going to happen. No, Ibanez wasn’t saying he knew he was going to win the game for the Phillies, but he and his teammates had a strong feeling they were going to win the game.

“There always a confidence. You can always feel it in the dugout,” he explained. “It’s not an arrogance, it’s a confidence. It’s a tough team. Everybody puts together good at-bats. Every time somebody goes up there, it’s like that person is going to be the guy and that’s really neat to be a part of.”

Cool quote.

But when asked about the off-the-field controversy sparked in his name, but not really actually involving him, Ibanez lowered his head, narrowed his eyes and glowered. It wasn’t an act of intimidation to the questioner, but it seemed as if he was trying to keep his emotions in check a bit. He seems hurt about the behavior of certain elements of the media. Yes, Ibanez gave it a big shrug off with his comments, but put yourself in his shoes for a second …  he didn’t do anything he hasn’t done before and he’s being questioned for it.

Check out these stats researched by Joe Posnanski:

The reason: When Raul Ibanez is hot, he’s HOT. There’s aren’t many people in baseball like him.

Look: Through 55 games, Ibanez was hitting .329/.386/.676 with 19 homers.

OK, let’s start in 2002. That year, Ibanez had a 50-game streak — June 7 to August 2 — when he hit .328/.385/.704 with 15 doubles, 5 triples, 15 homers. He drove in 54 runs. Few noticed because the Royals were abysmal that year, and it was in the middle of the season. But that stretch, you will note, is about as good as the stretch he’s on now. In some ways, it’s even better.

In 2003, he had a 55-game stretch where he hit .326/.360/.514 … not as good, but pretty damned good.

In 2004, he hit .365 over a 54-game stretch. In 2005, he got off to a dreadful start and then hit .330/.400/.524 over his next 55 games. In 2006, he hit 18 homers and drove in 57 RBIs in a 52-game stretch.

The last 52 games of the 2007 season, Ibanez hit .363/.425/.652 with 15 homers.

Last year, for 55 games, July 12 to Sept. 14, he hit .374/.435/.648 with 17 doubles, 2 triples, 13 homers. And that, you might remember, was in Seattle and a lousy hitters’ ballpark.

This is a man who, when he gets hot, absolutely tears up pitchers. I’ve seen it up close. He has had a 50-to-60 game hot streak EVERY SINGLE YEAR since 2002. Now, true, this time around, his hot streak started with Game 1. And why not? He was in a new league, in a new ballpark, facing pitchers who had not seen him as much. He’s in more of a fastball/slider/change-up league, which is in his comfort zone (rather than curveballs and split fingered fastballs which, generally, have eaten him up).

Point is: Raul Ibanez got hot, and this is how he hits when he’s hot. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here, nothing at all. Now, if he goes on to do this all year, if he goes on to hit 55 home runs, then yes, that would be out of the ordinary, that would be an outlier year like the years of Roger Maris, Davey Johnson, Andre Dawson, Luis Gonzalez, Brady Anderson and everyone else who had a wild and out of character year.

But for now, Raul Ibanez is just continuing what he’s done year after year. It’s just that people are noticing.

So Ibanez should be pissed that his name gets thrown into some ugly gumbo. Worse, the whole accusatory nature of the media and sports isn’t just wrong, it damn right immoral. And no, I’m not just talking about bloggers, either. Mainstream press people do it, too, and it sucks. Accusing an athlete playing well because he is using illicit substances without justification is the same thing as assuming an African-American wearing certain type of clothing is a criminal. It’s a stereotype in its nastiest and ugliest form.

Calling an athlete a juicer because he’s hitting home runs “at that age” is the very worst of human behavior. Even worse, we’re all guilty (well, most of us are).

And what’s with the age question stuff anyway? Haven’t we wised up to the affects of exercise, physiology and the aging process yet? Why shouldn’t Ibanez be just as effective now as he was in his 20s? Hell, when I was Ibanez’s age, I ran a 2:40 marathon and routinely ran 120-miles per week, and guess what – there were (and are) people older than me kicking my ass.

“I’m not really sure about the off-the-field stuff,” Ibanez said. “There is no off-the-field stuff. I go out there and do my job and that’s all I do. I play baseball.”

Reading between the lines there, I’m guessing that’s Ibanez’s way of telling everyone to grow up.

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