Raul Ibanez hit his 22nd homer of the season Monday night. That’s three more than last year. Eight have been hit against left-handers after he hit zero last season.
It was Ibanez’s third homer of the season on an 0-2 pitch.
“It was a cutter that got kind of out over the plate,” Ibanez said. “I was trying not to do too much, 0-2 against a pitcher of that caliber is not the position that you want to be in. I was kind of in survival mode, trying to put it in play, not do too much and got it in the air to right field.”
Ibanez is rarely at his locker pregame. He’s almost always off somewhere working on his game. When he does show up, he’s typically sweating well before getting onto the field.
He says he started thinking about the end of his career last season. Around September, things began to sink in for the 41-year-old.
“I started acting like it was my last game,” Ibanez said. “I started asking myself the question, if it was my last game, how would I act and what would I think about? How would I prepare?
“Try to enjoy it as much as you can, because, 41 years old, you can’t play this forever. Try to use that approach to play the game and try to hopefully share that approach with the younger guys and say, time goes by really fast and just enjoy it. That’s the one thing … you guys know me. I’m always preparing and running around and doing stuff. I think now is finally where I’m kind of enjoying it, taking it in … like I said, 41, you can’t play forever and enjoy it as much as you can every day.”
Ibanez’s general calm is noticeable. It translates to the plate, where loose hands are always fast hands. The thing that makes people wonder about his stunning first half — his age — is likely also the primary cause of it. If Ibanez hadn’t been a minor leaguer repeatedly told he wasn’t going to make it, if this wasn’t his 18th season, it’s unlikely he could have that steadiness.
“To be honest with you, I don’t really think about numbers,” Ibanez said. “I try to help the team win and try to be the best player I can be every day. At this point of my career, I prepare for every game like it’s my last. You never know when that moment’s going to come. Just try to enjoy it and soak it in and stay in the moment.
“We have a great group of young guys and they’re keeping me young.”
He, like others, never expected to be playing this much when he signed with the Mariners. Or even when the season started.
Yet, on July 9, he’s tied for fifth in the American League with 22 homers. He’s 12 short of his career-high 34 in 2009. He’s 11 short of his high with the Mariners of 33 in 2006.
No wonder he’s enjoying himself.