06/26/2002 00:35 am ET
Red-hot Ibanez lifts Royals
Four RBIs helps Royals top Tigers
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Royals need somebody other than Mike Sweeney
and Joe Randa to get hot and stay hot. Maybe Raul Ibanez is the guy.
Continuing his encouraging June spurt, Ibanez had a double, triple and
home run Tuesday night to help the Royals gain an 8-6 victory over the
Detroit Tigers. In the first-ever Major League game featuring two Dominican
managers, Kansas City's Tony Pena got the upper hand on Detroit's Luis
Pujols largely because Ibanez had the upper hand against the Tiger pitchers.
Ibanez equaled his career-high with four runs batted in. That
career-high had just been set last Saturday against the Mets.
When Ibanez came up in the seventh inning needing a single for the
cycle, it was 7-5 Royals and Kansas City had a runner at second. Pujols
decided to put Ibanez on as the crowd at Kauffman Stadium, hoping to see a
Royal hit for the cycle for the first time since George Brett did it in
1990, roared its disapproval.
"I was just concerned about winning the game," Ibanez said. "It's a 7-5
game. I'm not really disappointed. You want to hit there, but if you don't,
so be it."
When Ibanez was struggling in April and May, nobody would have thought
about intentionally putting him on. That free pass spoke volumes about the way
Ibanez is coming on.
"Anytime you get walked intentionally, it's a nice compliment," Ibanez
Ibanez was coming off an nine-game road trip when he hit .310. He also
went above the wall Sunday against the Mets to take away a three-run homer.
Now, Ibanez has started a six-game homestand with a 3-for-3 night that
lifted his average - once below .200 - to a respectable .258.
"Raul is swinging a hot bat," Pena said. "I'm going to play whoever is
Perhaps Ibanez's biggest hit of the night was the two-run triple in the
third. The Royals trailed 4-3 and had runners at second and third with one
out. Randa missed an RBI opportunity by tapping to the pitcher, but Ibanez
promptly picked him up with the two-run triple that knocked out Detroit
starter Mike Maroth.
"Joe has picked me up many times that I can think of," Ibanez said.
"That's what happens when a team has some success. One guy picks up the
Flash forward to the fifth when Ibanez came up with two out and
drove a two-run homer to right off Julio Santana that snapped a 5-5 tie.
"It was a fastball and that guy really throws the ball hard," Ibanez
said. "I caught it out front a little bit on the barrel. Fortunately for us,
the ball was carrying pretty good today."
Ibanez, always humble in success, credited the people ahead of him in
the lineup. Sweeney boosted his average to .358 with three hits and Randa
reached the .300 mark with two hits. Although the first two in the Kansas
City lineup went 0-for-8, the Royals still had a big offensive night because
the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 hitters were a combined 8-for-11.
"You can't drive anybody in unless there are guys on base," Ibanez said.
"There were runners out there for me tonight."
Ibanez came into the season cast as the everyday designated hitter
against right-handed pitching. But he struggled to the point that he got
lost in the shuffle for awhile. Now, Pena has him in the lineup ahead of
Ibanez just hopes he can make a difference as the Royals (27-46) try to
climb out of a deep hole. After a 1-8 road trip, Kansas City is hoping to
get on a roll at home.
Starter Jeff Suppan was shaky early as Kansas City fell behind 4-0. But
the Royals rallied and Suppan settled down.
"Suppan did a great job of keeping us in the game," Ibanez said. "After
we scored a few runs, he shut them down and then the bullpen did a nice job.
It was a big boost to come back and win after being down by four early."
Ibanez developed a relaxed approach a few weeks ago which called for him
not to dwell too much on the mechanical side of hitting. There was too much
thinking and not enough athletic reaction.
"I'm just trying to see the ball out of the pitcher's hand, track it to
the plate and see the ball hit the bat," Ibanez said. "I really started
doing that against St. Louis the first time (June 7-9). That's all I've been
trying to do. See the ball all the way and let it get into the hitting zone
before you swing."
Whenever Ibanez has a big night, there are smiles all around the Royals'
clubhouse. Ibanez is extremely popular with his teammates.
"I'm just thankful the organization has given me the opportunity and
keeps putting me out there to play," Ibanez said. "I'm going to do the most
I can with it."
Robert Falkoff covers the Royals for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.