When going got tough, Ibanez never wavered

When going got tough, Ibanez never wavered

When going got tough, Ibanez never wavered
PHILADELPHIA -- Raul Ibanez is in the final year of his contract, playing in a postseason for a team built to win this October.

The soft-spoken left fielder does not know what the future will hold. Ibanez only knows that after 16 seasons, he has not experienced the ultimate high of hoisting a World Series trophy.

Ibanez knows time is running out.

"Your focus is heightened and sharpened just by being in the postseason," Ibanez said. "The first time I was in the postseason, I didn't really get it. I mean I got it, you're in the postseason, but I didn't get how hard it was to get there. I didn't realize how special it was. The longer you play, you realize how special it is to get to the postseason and have an opportunity."

Division Series History
It's been much more difficult to come back from a series deficit in the Senior Circuit.
Scenario ALDS NLDS
1-0 18 14 29 3
2-0 17 4 19 0
2-1 14 5 16 1

Even as his role diminished toward the end of the season, splitting time with John Mayberry Jr., Ibanez has stayed the course, always focusing on the moment, with thoughts never drifting into whether he has reached the end.

On Saturday, here was his moment in the bottom of the sixth -- digging into the batter's box with a runner on first and one out, the Phillies ahead by one and Citizens Bank Park still abuzz from Ryan Howard's go-ahead three-run home run off Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse two batters earlier.

Ibanez cracked a 2-0 changeup over the right-field seats to cap a five-run sixth inning in the Phillies' 11-6 victory in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. He is 3-for-27 against the Cardinals in his career, but two of those hits have nailed down huge victories for Philadelphia. Ibanez's grand slam on Sept. 17 stamped a fifth straight NL East title, and his home run Saturday night electrified the crowd and gave Roy Halladay a three-run cushion.

"I have seen him play probably his whole career, and he showed me signs that he definitely wasn't finished," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

That could have been questioned throughout the season.

Off right-handed pitching, Ibanez had a slash line of .256/.307/.440 (AVG/OBP/SLG). His OPS of .747 against righties trumps the .585 mark he put up vs. lefties this season. Against left-handed pitching, his slash line is .211/.232/.353 -- a major reason why Mayberry would often get the nod against lefties.

In late April to early May, Ibanez went through an 0-for-35 slump. But when he ran into bad stretches, he typically countered with huge offensive bursts.

"I'm not really thinking backwards right now, so I'm really trying to focus on the moment," Ibanez said. "In this game, there's going to be tough times, there's going to be good times. The test of your character is when things are rough and you find out what you're made of."

Nate Mink is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.