It was a Saturday in March and Raul Ibanez was optimistic because Raul Ibanez is always optimistic. Even when he lugged a hitless streak that lasted 35 excruciating at-bats. Even when he played through pain. Even when his swing failed him for months at a time because it always returned.
But now Ibanez was a Yankee, attempting to recall his happiest moment during three years in Philadelphia, and he was forlorn. He thought of an October 2009 night in the Bronx.
"That was my best memory and my worst memory," Ibanez said March 3. "My toughest memory was watching the Yankees celebrate out there. It felt so close that you could touch it."
Now he is a part of it; a real living part of the "mystique and aura" Yankees fans often invoke. He pinch-hit for a $275 million superstar and belted a home run to force extra innings. In the 12th inning, against a lefthanded pitcher nonetheless, Ibanez smashed the first pitch he saw.
He could finally touch the celebration.
It is, of course, not the party Ibanez ultimately craves. He has played in 1,947 games over 17 years for four teams and a World Series ring eludes his grasp. He is father to five children, the youngest born last week. He is grateful; eternally during his time in Philadelphia.
Ibanez will always have Wednesday night.
He was the oldest player in baseball history to hit a walk-off home run in postseason play. He was the first player to ever hit two home runs in a postseason game he did not start. He won over a fan base that questioned his presence as a 40-year-old platoon designated hitter.
There are eight men who hit 19 or more home runs with at least a .750 OPS while 40 years or older: Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Darrell Evans, Dave Winfield, Hank Sauer and Raul Ibanez.
The short porch at Yankee Stadium was good to Ibanez in 2012. He hit .275 with an .895 OPS and 14 home runs in the Bronx. While on the road, those numbers dipped to .208, .634 and 5.
He batted only 65 times against lefty pitchers in 2012, his fewest since 2001 when he was an unproven 29-year-old outfielder in Kansas City. Joe Girardi used him strictly with the platoon advantage.
Before he hit a Brian Matusz cutter deep into the second deck of Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, Ibanez had not homered off a lefty in 442 days. That was at Citizens Bank Park on a Tuesday last July. It was a first-inning blast that scored Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino.
The Phillies won, 7-2, and traded for Hunter Pence three days later.
And Ibanez? He is 40 years old and not without faults. But the man can still hit a fastball.
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