Raul Ibanez saw his close friend Mike Sweeney come apart at the seams after the Giants ended the Phillies’ 2010 season last October.

The red-eyed Sweeney, who reluctantly peeled off his uniform after the Phillies were eliminated, realized that his last — and best — chance to win a World Series had expired. He also knew the odds were against him returning to the Phillies.

This appears to be Ibanez’s last, best chance to win it all. The Phillies’ elder statesmen has a contract that will expire in October. Chances are that John Mayberry Jr. and Domonic Brown will compete for his left-field job, adding a much-needed injection of youth into the Phillies’ lineup.

For now, Ibanez is the starting left fielder on a team that has been the favorite to win the World Series since Cliff Lee signed a long-term deal in the offseason. That hasn’t changed.

 

“There are great expectations with this team,” Ibanez said. “People expect us to win. That’s a good thing. I have great expectations for this team and for myself.”

Ibanez struggled during the first half of the season, but he surged at the right time. He finished the season with a respectable 20 home runs and 84 RBIs.

“I just kept at it,” Ibanez said. “I made adjustments and did all that I could to get my stroke down.”

It helped that Charlie Manuel never lost confidence in Ibanez.

“He’s a very good professional hitter,” Manuel said of Ibanez. “I knew he was going to come around.”

Of course, Ibanez appreciated Manuel’s faith.

“He’s been amazing,” Ibanez said. “It’s nice to have a manager who believes in you like him. I need to reward him for his belief in me.”

The playoffs would be a great time for Ibanez to pay Charlie back.

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