Raul Ibañez defies time with power surge

Raul Ibanez watches the flight of his 6th

Raul Ibanez watches the flight of his 6th inning three-run home run against the Seattle Mariners. (May 11, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

David Lennon

David Lennon has been a staff writer for David Lennon

David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since

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For anyone needing evidence to believe that Andy Pettitte, at age 39, can turn back the clock Sunday and dominate the Mariners, look no further than Raul Ibañez, who turns 40 next month.

One of the Yankees' most dangerous hitters lately also happens to be their oldest, and in Ibañez's view, Father Time is just another pitcher trying to get him out. Good luck with that.

The ageless Ibañez continued his roll Saturday with two more big hits off Hector Noesi: a two-out double for the Yankees' first run and a 410-foot homer, his seventh, that landed on the netting above Monument Park.

Ibañez has nearly as many RBIs (21) as hits (24) and trails only Nick Swisher for the team lead in the former category. He has delivered more than half (11) with two outs, just as he did Saturday in the second inning, when he fell behind 0-and-2 before serving a changeup into leftfield.

"He's been doing it for a long time," Joe Girardi said. "I'm not even sure it was on the plate. I'm not even sure it was a strike. That's how good a hitter he is, and his RBIs have been huge RBIs for us."

Not bad for a No. 7 hitter who had only the frosty Russell Martin (.184) and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shuttle rider Jayson Nix behind him.

This is Ibañez's 17th season in the majors, but you'd never know it without looking at his bio. He says he works as hard now as he ever did, stacking up sessions with batting coach Kevin Long. He doesn't know any other way.

"I think it was because I never really had anything handed to me," Ibañez said after the 6-2 victory over the Mariners. "I was a 36th-round pick. I felt like I could outwork people. I felt if I took more swings, I'd be a better hitter.

"I've always been like that since I can remember. In high school, everyone would go home and I would hit off the tee by myself."

The Yankees took a calculated risk in trading Jesus Montero to the Mariners -- one that blew up in Brian Cashman's face. But if not for that swap, Ibañez probably never gets the chance to fulfill his dream of returning home to play in the Bronx. Needing a DH, basically to platoon with Andruw Jones, the Yankees signed him to a one-year deal for essentially pocket change ($1.1 million).

Now with Brett Gardner on the disabled list indefinitely, Ibañez's role has expanded, and he's getting more time in leftfield. For a guy who takes his job very seriously, that's provided a few rare moments to savor the surroundings.

"I really enjoy that roll call," he said, smiling. "I always wanted to be a part of something like that. The only thing is I got to try to time it to where they're not throwing the ball in the middle because I don't want to wave and miss a pitch. That's the only challenge.''

At the plate, Ibañez has been locked in, and four of his last six hits have been home runs. It's strange now to think that two months ago, there was a fear that Ibañez, mired in a 2-for-37 skid, might be finished. That maybe the Yankees brought him aboard too late.

No one is worried anymore. The last time he hit four homers in a four-game stretch was 2007, with the Mariners, and he says he feels no different in the batter's box than he did a decade ago. That same drive propels him, and in describing it after Saturday's game, Ibañez recalled what a former trainer, Lou DeNeen, told him during his 20s.

"He always used to say to me, regret is a very powerful emotion, and the only thing we never get back is today," Ibañez said. "I started thinking to myself, I never want to feel regret."

He has no reason to feel that way now, and when it finally is time for him to walk away, he'll be satisfied then. Like Pettitte, who returns from retirement, Ibañez is not there yet.

"It's maybe one of my not-so-great qualities," Ibañez said. "Maybe one day I'll look back and enjoy it. But right now, I don't really allow myself to get caught up in stuff like that because tomorrow's a new game and the preparation for tomorrow starts now."

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