NEW YORK - What made Philadelphia such a special place for Raul Ibanez? It was the hairs on his arms standing up.
"They were some of the best times of my baseball career," he said last winter while waiting to see if the Phillies would re-sign him for a fourth season. "I remember after hitting a home run early in that first season, all the fans stood up in left field and started chanting my name at the same time. I remember the hairs on my arms stood up. I had the hair of my arms stand up more in the last three years than I did during the rest of my career."
At Yankee Stadium, home to baseball's most hallowed team, the hair on Ibanez's arms isn't just standing these days. Like the black bat he swings, it's on fire.
Ibanez had some incredible moments with the Phillies. That's how he became known as "Raaaauuul" at Citizens Bank Park. But his last 13 days with the New York Yankees have been beyond amazing as he has emerged as the cleanup hitter for the team that finished second in baseball in runs scored.
This space was used last offseason to point out that it might not be the worst idea in the world to re-sign the aging Ibanez as insurance in case John Mayberry Jr. proved unable to handle the role of playing regularly in left field. The Phillies signed Juan Pierre instead, a move that is difficult to criticize, especially when you factor in that Ibanez did not want to return as a bench player with the Phillies.
Pierre provided the same kind of veteran professionalism the Phillies had received from Ibanez, but not nearly as much power. If the Phillies decide to go with rookie Darin Ruf in left field in 2013, Ibanez might again be worth considering as insurance.
At the moment, however, he is writing a Bronx tale, albeit one that lost some of its sizzle Sunday when the Tigers won, 3-0. Detroit leads the American League Championship Series, two games to none.
Ibanez's star here in New York started to rise on the penultimate day of the regular season when he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning and slammed a 1-2 pitch into the right-field seats for a game-tying, two-run homer against the Boston Red Sox.
Three innings later, his two-out single gave the Yankees a 4-3 victory that allowed them to maintain a one-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East race. The Yankees won their 17th division title the next night.
A week later, Ibanez's regular-season heroics seemed pedestrian compared to what he did in Game 3 of New York's division series with Baltimore.
With his team trailing by 2-1 with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Yankees manager Joe Girardi told Ibanez to grab a bat. Ibanez, who signed with the Yankees for $1.1 million just before the start of spring training, was about to pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez, a man with 647 career home runs and making $28 million more than him. It It was a gutsy move by the manager, even though A-Rod is mired in a slump so colossal that Yankees fans are appalled by his every plate appearance.
Ibanez looked at one pitch from Baltimore closer Jim Johnson before driving the next one into the right-field seats for the tying home run.
The fans at Yankee Stadium and the hair on Ibanez's arms were both standing as he rounded the bases.
Ibanez, 40, became a Yankees postseason legend - no easy task in these parts - when he hit a walk-off home run to lead off the bottom of the 12th inning.
He became the first player to hit two home runs in a postseason game after the eighth inning and the first player in postseason history to hit two home runs in a game he did not start. He also became the oldest player in postseason history to hit a walk-off home run.
Ibanez's arm hair and the fans stood again late Saturday night when he followed a two-run home run by Ichiro Suzuki with a two-out, two-run home run of his own that allowed the Yankees to erase a four-run, ninth-inning deficit against Detroit closer Jose Valverde in Game 1 of the ALCS.
Saturday night, however, eventually turned into Sunday morning, and there was no happy ending for the Yankees. They lost the game and their captain, Derek Jeter, to a fractured ankle in the 12th inning.
Another loss followed Sunday afternoon as Ibanez remained the only hot hitter in the New York lineup. Ibanez reached in three of his four plate appearances, including once on an intentional walk with a runner at third and two outs in the bottom of the sixth.
Ibanez understandably wasn't in the mood to talk about his magical two-week run with his team in such a precarious position.
"Yeah, it has been extraordinary," Ibanez said. "We've been playing well and obviously that Baltimore series was a huge series for us, and there was a lot of energy and emotion there. Unfortunately, the only thing I'm focused on now is trying to help our team win. We're obviously not in a great situation, but it has been done before, and we're going to go out there and battle."