Phil Sheridan: Ibanez stopped looking, found his stroke

Phillies leftfielder Raul Ibanez (right) is welcomed at home plate by Jayson Werth and Placido Polanco after hitting a three-run homer in the Phillies' five-run third inning.
Phillies leftfielder Raul Ibanez (right) is welcomed at home plate by Jayson Werth and Placido Polanco after hitting a three-run homer in the Phillies' five-run third inning.
Posted: August 09, 2010

It sounds like something you'd find inside a fortune cookie, some bit of word play that is either deeply profound or total hooey.

Do more by trying less. Stop searching and find what you seek.

"It's like the harder you look, the less you find," Raul Ibanez said. On Sunday afternoon, he found a pitch from Mets righthander R.A. Dickey and drove it off the ivy-covered wall beyond center field.

"I was trying not to do too much," Ibanez said. "I was trying to almost play pepper with him."

Ibanez's three-run homer was more like salt in the wounds of the free-falling Mets. It also extended the seasoned veteran's career-best hitting streak to 16 games. What is most remarkable, though, is the timing of the tear Ibanez is on.

On July 21, Ibanez went hitless in a game in St. Louis. The Phillies lost their fourth game in a row, dropping to a season-worst 7 games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves. Since that day, Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino have joined Chase Utley on the disabled list. There was every reason to think that 2010 had become just one of those years for the Phillies.

Since then, Ibanez has hit in all 16 games he has played (he missed a game Aug. 1 with a sore wrist). The Phillies' record is 14-3 in that span. They have closed to within two games of the Braves.

Ibanez isn't doing this by himself, of course. He'd be the last guy to suggest that. Catcher Carlos Ruiz has gotten hot, too. Jayson Werth has contributed some key hits. Jimmy Rollins is back at the top of the lineup, sparking the offense. Placido Polanco has been steady throughout.

But there is something poetic about Ibanez's surge.

He came to the Phillies two winters ago as the replacement for the enigmatic Pat Burrell. The fans immediately took to Ibanez, chanting his first name "Rauuuuuuuul" the way Eagles fans used to chant "Duuuuuuuuuuce" Staley's. He got off to a great start last season.

Then, as if he'd gotten bitten by some slump-bearing mosquito, Ibanez lost his swing. He struggled through the end of last season and the playoffs. He struggled through spring training this year. He struggled through April and May and June and most of July. Ibanez spent countless hours in the batting cage and the video room, searching.

"I think by doing that, you prolong finding it," Ibanez said. "You have to back off and just trust yourself. Try to do things easier. Less is more."

"He's tried everything you possibly can try," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's talked to everybody. He lost a lot of sleep, probably."

Ibanez woke up just in time to help save this season.

During the Phillies' three years of division titles and October baseball, their hallmark has been the way different players carry the offense. Utley and Howard are seldom hot at the same time. Last year, Ibanez and Utley were the heavy hitters early and Howard and Werth came on strong late. But someone always, always comes through.

This year, Utley and Howard and Victorino were missing and Werth was as streaky as ever. Ibanez looked around the clubhouse and saw so many new faces, it felt like a different ball club. But something was the same.

"Character," Ibanez said. "This team has a different mentality of any other team I've been on. It's a team that pulls together, a bunch of guys who are gamers. Everybody goes out there and leaves their heart on the field and does everything they can to contribute to a win. It's a real team environment."

With extra pressure to produce, Ibanez easily could have slipped even deeper into his funk. That's what makes his clutch performance so special. He has come through during the most trying of circumstances.

"I don't really believe in trying to do more," Ibanez said. "You just do what you're capable of doing and contributing whatever you can. If you think about guys being out and start worrying about all that, you stop focusing on what you should be focusing on."

Throughout his slump, things sounded about the same for Ibanez. A boo can sound just like a "Rauuuuuuuul" if you don't listen too hard. But there's no way the fans could be as frustrated as Ibanez was with himself, and that goes a long way. He is not one of those players who looks as if he isn't trying or doesn't care.

So it was that much sweeter to hear the return of the heartfelt "Rauuuuuuuul" cheer as Ibanez rounded the bases. The fans roared again in the eighth, when he made a couple of catches in left field.

The Phillies are poised to make a run when Howard, Utley and Victorino get back. Another October beckons. By trying to do less, Ibanez has done more to make that possible.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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