06/09/2002 7:41 pm ET
Ibañez delivers clutch homer
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com
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
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.
"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," 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
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."
'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
Robert Falkoff covers the Royals for MLB.com. This story was not subject to
approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.