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Red-hot Ibanez lifts Royals
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06/26/2002 00:35 am ET 
Red-hot Ibanez lifts Royals
Four RBIs helps Royals top Tigers
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com

Raul Ibanez hits a two-run triple off Tigers pitcher Mike Maroth in the third inning Tuesday. (Ed Zurga/AP)
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 said.

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 hot."

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 other."

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 Michael Tucker.

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."

All-Star ballot 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.



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