When left fielder Raul Ibanez went 3-for-4 and drove in four runs in the Mariners' first game following the All-Star break, little did anyone know the internal fire lit that night at Safeco Field would glow so brightly for the remainder of the season.
And has it ever.
Through Monday's action, Ibanez had 82 hits since the All-Star break -- fourth in the Major Leagues -- ranked fifth in the American League in RBIs with 52 and had a .342 second-half batting average, sixth in the AL.
The 36-year-old Ibanez has been the Mariners' most reliable run producer of the season, making him the organization's nominee for the MLB Hank Aaron Award presented by Sharp.
This coveted honor is awarded annually to the best overall offensive performer in each league, with each club having a nominee. Fans can vote here until Oct. 12 to select the winner in each league. The winners will be announced prior to Game 4 of the World Series on Sunday, Oct. 26. Last year's winners were Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, for the fourth time, and Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. Originally introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, the Hank Aaron Award was the first major award to be introduced in 30 years.
Ibanez is in the final year of the three-year contract he signed with Seattle prior to the 2006 season, and has more than lived up to his end of the bargain. He surpassed the 100-RBI mark for the third consecutive season earlier this month.
But he's not into the personal numbers game.
"The only thing I really focus on is how many times I contribute to our team scoring runs," Ibanez said. "You just try to stay with the preparation, the approach and the attitude that you bring to the ballpark every day. I always feel like the process is more important than the results."
Ibanez credits hitting coach Jose Castro with being "instrumental" in his hitting surge over the second half of the season.
"It's all about his tremendous preparation and work habits," manager Jim Riggleman said. "His daily preparation is right there with Ichiro. Those two guys prepare for each season, prepare for each game and prepare for each at-bat."
With less than a week remaining in the season, Ibanez ranked in the top 10 in the AL in hits, RBIs, extra-base hits and doubles.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.