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Originally published Monday, September 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

After season of work, Raul Ibanez gets little fanfare

Win or lose — and we all know there have been too many losses — Raul Ibanez has been as consistent as a heartbeat. On the finger-pointing-est team in baseball, he has never made excuses and always stayed above the pettiness. He played in every game, and he hit .293 with 23 home runs.

Seattle Times staff columnist

One last time this season, Raul Ibanez ran through the Safeco sunlight, stepped on second base and took his place in left field.

For 11 big-league years — eight of them in Seattle — Ibanez has played baseball the way it is supposed to be played. He has prepared for every game the way a professional is supposed to prepare.

Win or lose — and we all know there have been too many losses — he has been as consistent as a heartbeat. On the finger-pointing-est team in baseball, he has never made excuses and always stayed above the pettiness.

In a clubhouse that felt so often like Dysfunction Junction, Ibanez was an island of dignity. On a team that needed leadership, he did what he could, hoping his teammates would watch his ethic, see his production and follow his example.

So much bad happened to the Mariners this year, but Ibanez was someone good.

In this Code Red year, he did everything he could. He played in every game, and he hit .293 with 23 home runs. His first-inning ground ball to second Sunday was his 110th RBI of the year.

He is only the fourth Mariner to have at least 100 RBI, 30 doubles and 20 home runs in three consecutive seasons, but there is no doubt he would trade those numbers for a postseason.

It is a tribute to Ibanez that Ichiro, maybe the only Mariner who prepares himself as diligently as Ibanez, wants him back in Seattle next season.

But, at 36, Ibanez hears the clock ticking. He knows his seasons in the sun are dwindling, and he would like to finish his career on a winner.

Sunday's game, a 4-3 win over Oakland, was Ibanez's 986th — and maybe his last — with the Mariners.

This team has been blasted, correctly, so many times from so many places, that a season as good as Ibanez's can get lost in the roar.

The Mariners fired general manager Bill Bavasi. They fired manager John McLaren. They lost closer J.J. Putz for much of the year. And they lost 101 games.

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By the All-Star break, the Mariners' season was irrelevant. They were just another losing team on Seattle's road to misery.

But Ibanez kept slashing line drives into gaps. Even when his team was down and out, he ran out every ground ball as if a pennant were possible.

And though he never will be confused with Mike Cameron in the outfield, Ibanez never quit on fly balls and continued working hard on his defense. He had nine assists this season.

He is a 36th-round draft pick who took the hard road to the major leagues and never has acted like the bigs were his birthright.

He stopped in Tempe, Appleton, Bellingham, Riverside, Port City (Port City?) and Tacoma before his first Mariners call-up in 1996, his fifth professional season.

He came of age in his three seasons in Kansas City (2001-03), but even then, when he came back to Seattle, he was cheered as if the fans believed he still was one of their own.

Unlike Edgar Martinez, he wasn't part of the Mariners' glory years of 1995 and 2001. And because Alvin Davis beat him to the nickname, he'll never be called Mr. Mariner.

But Ibanez's professionalism, his production and his attachment to this community are reflective of the careers of Martinez and Davis.

It can, and has, been argued that he should have been traded at the July trade deadline. After all, a team that is looking to the future doesn't need a 36-year-old outfielder.

It's a legitimate argument, but by keeping him, the Mariners gave us at least two more months of his grace.

No matter the quality of the season, there is a melancholy feeling in the park on the last day of the season. The uncertainty of Ibanez's future here made it seem even sadder.

In the seventh inning, as the shadows touched the front of the pitching mound, he came to the plate. The moment's possible significance was lost on the crowd.

It might have been his last Mariners at-bat, and Ibanez should have been given an ovation for all he did this season and for all he's done in his career. Instead he came and went quietly, striking out against lefty Jerry Blevins to end the seventh inning.

If that was his last swing as a Mariner, I only wish he could have crashed one final shot against the windows of the Hit It Here Café.

This quiet Mariner deserved to take his leave loudly.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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