Raul Rallies Phils

Leftfielder Raul Ibanez (center, obscured) is mobbed by the Phillies after his game-winning double in the 10th. Hunter Pence (left) scored the final run.
Leftfielder Raul Ibanez (center, obscured) is mobbed by the Phillies after his game-winning double in the 10th. Hunter Pence (left) scored the final run. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 01, 2011

They were not dancing on Raul Ibanez's grave, and that was enough of a reason to celebrate Sunday when the 39-year-old outfielder willed a 6-5 Phillies victory in 10 innings for a three-game series sweep of Pittsburgh at Citizens Bank Park.

Shane Victorino was the first to meet Ibanez at second base and high-fived him. Carlos Ruiz jumped into Ibanez's face. Chase Utley started the playful shoving and others followed.

When Ibanez signed a three-year deal before the 2009 season, it was implicit that the third year could turn ugly. In the post-steroid era, few 39-year-olds are everyday players in baseball. And before Sunday, Ibanez's 2011 season had gone just as expected. His .703 OPS was one point below the National League average. His defense rated as the worst in baseball by advanced metrics.

The only things preventing Ibanez from descending to the depths of baseball's worst are his streaks that hint there is value remaining in his bat. He hit .161 in April, only for May to yield a .315 batting average. June was another test in the form of a .211 clip, but July ended with Ibanez hitting .284 for the month.

His final game of July was his best. Twice, he homered, including a game-tying two-run rocket in the eighth inning. His double won it in the 10th, scoring Hunter Pence, who had doubled with one out. That allowed Ibanez to author the perfect ending.

"Ibanez did some good hitting," Charlie Manuel said. "I don't have to tell you. He put some good swings on the ball. Real good."

So the Phillies head west with smiles, the previous three days only confirming that the remainder of the regular season is delaying the inevitable. They are 29 games over .500, six games ahead of the Atlanta Braves, and a winning machine.

The acquisition of Pence cultivated more confidence within an already poised clubhouse. In two days with Pence in the middle of Manuel's lineup, the Phillies scored 13 runs. Protection can very well be a myth, but Ryan Howard torched the Pirates with Pence batting behind him on Saturday. And when Pence twice reached base in the final three innings Sunday, an Ibanez swing carried him home. When Ibanez hit the two-run home run to tie the game in the eighth, it came against a righthander, Jose Veras. Veras was inserted because Pence breaks up the lefties Utley, Howard and Ibanez.

"I hope that it's a dynamic that helps, but Raul still has to hit the homer," Pence said. "It was an absolutely unbelievable day by him. You look around, and any number of these guys can carry you for a day, and that's the beauty of it."

There is little time for Pence to bask in his role on a winning team. Utley picked him up from his hotel Sunday morning, drove him around Philadelphia, and bought him coffee. ("This is a great team," Pence said.) He originally packed for a 10-game road trip with Houston, and those clothes are all he has. His black cleats were spray-painted red by assistant athletic trainer Mark Andersen. That'll have to do until later this week.

"I'm going to live out of that backpack for basically the rest of the year," Pence said.

Across the outfield, Ibanez soldiers on. The numbers will show he has been painfully average, if not worse, but there hardly is pressure on Ibanez. Pence bumped Domonic Brown to triple A, providing what the Phillies hope is stability in at least one of the corner outfield positions.

Ibanez was asked if he is happy with his play this season and responded with a string of clich├ęs. Does he peek at his stats?

"I try not to," he said.

The final 55 games will not be without another cold streak if Ibanez holds true to form. At least there are still days like Sunday.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com

or @magelb on Twitter.

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