October 24, 2020

The Chase is On

“This contract’s not going to change how I perform … It’s not going to change how I prepare. It’s not going to change how hard I play.”  – Chase Utley, 2007.

(BRONX, NY)  There were a few tense moments in the press box before Tuesday’s World Series opener, as the rain seemed to intensify the closer it got to game-time.  As if on cue, at about 4:00 PM, the precipitation slowed, then stopped.  A few moments later, the sun shone on Yankee Stadium.  It continued to shine long after Apollo’s chariot had completed its journey – on the Phillies.

There were some that questioned whether the new Olympus would be as intimidating to opponents as the palace it replaced.  At least for one night, the Phillies proved them right, as Chase Utley provided the thunder of Hephaestus, and Cliff Lee delivered the lightning of Zeus in a 6-1 win over the AL champs.

Twice, Yankees’ ace CC Sabathia grooved a fastball over the heart of the plate to Utley, and twice, the Phillies’ All-Star second baseman made him pay.  It was all the offense the Phillies would need, and gave the team a critical 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Fall Classic.

The last six teams to win Game 1 – and 10 of the last 11 – have all gone on to win the World Series.

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Hard to believe the Phillies waited until Utley was 26 to give him a full-time job.

Utley shared second base with Placido Polanco for the first two seasons of his career.  But in 2005, a new manager named Charley Manuel, awarded him the starting second base job after a solid spring training.

He finished his first season as a full-time player with a .291 average, 39 doubles, 28 homers and 105 RBIs.  He’s put up the best numbers of any second baseman in baseball over the last five seasons, and is a player, said Fox broadcaster Tim McCarver, who is a “gamer”, which he considers a compliment of the highest order.  From a guy that played with Joe Morgan and Pete Rose, that’s quite a call-out.

“He had a good night tonight,” said a deadpan Charlie Manuel.  “He’s got real quick hands … he’s got a good cut, and very good to coach.”

Utley went just 4-for-19 in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  But he took advantage of some early command issues by Sabathia, who was otherwise solid for seven innings.

Lee, on the other hand, was brilliant, striking out 10 and allowing just one unearned run in a complete game win.  He was sharp from the first pitch, continuing what has been an incredible run in a Phillies’ uniform.

When Ruben Amaro Jr. finally told then-Toronto GM J.P. Riccardi that his asking price for Roy Halladay was too high, he set his sights upon another Cy Young Award winner.  When he did finally acquired Lee from the Indians, he did so without relinquishing either his top prospect (Kyle Drabek) or his impressive left-handed rookie pitcher (J.A. Happ).

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Pedro Martinez will start Game 2 for the Phillies on Thursday, coming off a stellar performance in the NLCS against the Dodgers, throwing seven scores innings in an eventual  defeat to the Dodgers, 2-1.

The veteran right-hander provided the Phillies with some solid pitching down the stretch, going 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA in nine starts.   In 12 career postseason starts, Martinez is 6-2 with a 3.13 ERA.  However, at old Yankee Stadium, he went 0-2 with a 6.28 ERA in three postseason games, two of which were starts.