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Ibañez delivers clutch homer
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06/09/2002 7:41 pm ET 
Ibañez delivers clutch homer
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com

Raul Ibanez lived the dream Sunday, hitting the game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth. (Ed Zurga/AP)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It was the kind of scenario that kids often dream about while playing wiffle ball in the backyard.

Tie game, bottom of the ninth. You time a 3-1 fastball perfectly and send the ball out of the park in the blink of an eye. You round the bases and run into a mob scene at home plate.

Raul Ibañez lived the dream Sunday. Only he did it in the spotlight of the Major Leagues, not in somebody's backyard.

The Ibañez rocket shot over the right-field wall off Mike Timlin gave the Royals a 3-2 victory over St. Louis at Kauffman Stadium and enabled Kansas City to salvage something in an I-70 series that had been all Cardinals on Friday and Saturday.

"That," Royals manager Tony Peña said of the dramatic Ibañez homer, "was a laser."

Ibañez delivered at just the right time for an injury-plagued Royals' club which was routed 12-6 and 11-3 the previous two days. Until Sunday, the Royals' faces were Cardinal red.

"We were in front of our third big crowd in a row and trying to avoid a sweep," Ibañez said. "This was a huge win for our team."

Ibañez doesn't know a lot about the I-70 rivalry, but he certainly knows how to hit a fastball with a hitter's count.

Timlin, who had escaped trouble in the eighth inning only because of three fine Cardinal defensive plays, had to challenge Ibañez with a 3-1 count. Ibañez , who hadn't homered since April 11, turned Timlin's fastball around and sent the Cardinals on to Seattle with heads drooping. All-Star ballot

"I was just thinking about being easy with the swing and seeing the ball," Ibañez said. "I wanted to let the ball travel into the hitting zone and try to get something I could hit hard."

The Royals had only four hits, two each by Ibañez and second baseman Carlos Febles. Thanks to solid pitching by starter Miguel Asencio and relievers Cory Bailey and Roberto Hernandez, Ibañez had his ninth-inning chance to be a hero.

It was the second walk-off homer for the Royals in two weeks. Joe Randa had one to win the opener of a doubleheader against Texas on May 26.

"It was a sweet win," first baseman Mike Sweeney said. "I'm just glad Raul did it. I'd much rather him do it than myself. That's how much I think about Raul. "

Like many of the Royals' hitters, Ibañez struggled through April and May. He came into the season with high hopes after hitting .280 with 13 home runs last year. When the Royals broke Spring Training, Ibañez was penciled in as the regular designated hitter against right-handed pitching.

But after hitting .277 through the opening 16 days, Ibañez went into a prolonged slump. He has begun to come around in the last week, but still faces an uphill climb with a .218 batting average.

 

'I pressed early and it has gotten me into the hole I'm in. I was worrying about things I couldn't control. Now, I'm trying not to dwell too much on the mechanical side of things. I'm just trying to relax and see the ball out of the release.'
-- RAUL IBANEZ

 

"I pressed early and it has gotten me into the hole I'm in," Ibañez said. "I was worrying about things I couldn't control. Now, I'm trying not to dwell too much on the mechanical side of things. I'm just trying to relax and see the ball out of the release. "

Ibañez experienced the thrill of a walk-off home run with Seattle in 1999. He has also done it a couple of times in Spring Training with the Royals.

Ibañez jump-started the Royals' offense, as well as finishing off the Cardinals. With two out and nobody on in the third inning, he crushed a double to right off Cardinals starter Jason Simontacchi and eventually scored when Febles delivered a two-run hit.

The Royals (24-36) had been scorched for 17 and 15 hits, respectively, in the opening two games of the series. But Asencio, the 21-year-old rookie, limited St. Louis to five hits and two runs through seven innings.

"For Miguel to pitch the way he did, it shows how lucky we are to have him," Sweeney said.

The Royals hit three balls hard in the eighth inning off Timlin, but had no luck. Ibaqez solved that dilemma by coming up in the ninth and hitting the ball where no Cardinal defender could reach it.

"You definitely dream about being in situations like that," Ibañez said. "Timlin is a good pitcher, but it just happened to work out right for me today. I'm happy for our team. Hopefully, this kind of win is something we can build on."

Robert Falkoff covers the Royals for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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