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Chase Utley sets tone for the defending champion Phillies

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By Thomas Boswell
Thursday, October 29, 2009

NEW YORK

In what should not have been a shock, but may have caught some here as a stunning pre-Halloween trick, the Philadelphia Phillies showed why they are the current world champs with a 6-1 win in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night.

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As for the New York Yankees, they demonstrated why, in key ways, they are still an inexperienced postseason team, with a young and easily traumatized bullpen, that is still trying to find its confidence on an extremely precarious stage. Now that's scary.

The most appropriate of all the ornery Phillies -- Chase Utley -- announced his team to Broadway. The gritty second baseman, probably Philly's best all-around player and surely its toughest customer, crashed two home runs off Yankees ace CC Sabathia to set the tone of this night.

If the Yanks don't rebut quickly, Utley may have set the pattern of this whole confrontation as well. After all, this is exactly what he did all of last October. In the Phillies' three postseason series during their '08 title run, Utley was the first-game hitting hero every time. In each game, he drove in two runs; the Phils won, 3-1, 3-2, 3-2. Nine Philadelphia runs, six Utley RBI. The Phils only lost one game in each of those series.

Now, the Phils' tight-lipped leader is back at it, driving in the first two runs of this Series. With his solo blasts, Utley punctuated New York's $161 million free agent southpaw twice with exclamation points of his own. In the whole history of the series only one left-handed hitter ever hit two Series homers in a game off a left-handed pitcher: Babe Ruth. Now, it's Babe and Chase.

The Phils love that Utley deflects credit, plays hurt, loves to irritate foes and seems to enjoy nothing better than standing on top of the plate and getting hit by a pitch (a league-leading 24).

"He had a good night tonight," deadpanned Manager Charlie Manuel. "He's the most prepared player I've ever been around."

As for Utley himself, he wasn't aware, and didn't care, that he'd tied a Ruth record or that he'd set a postseason record for most consecutive games getting on base. "Didn't know that," he said. "It doesn't matter that much."

In Utley's world, the night was simple. He looked for fastballs. He got two of them that were over the plate. The first, he "squeaked over the fence" in the right field corner in the third inning. In the fifth, he hit a monster bomb on an 0-2 pitch, at least 430 feet, that landed five rows above the Modell's sign that is 15 rows up in the right field bleachers. Nobody interrogated Utley about it directly, so he conveniently forgot to mention it.

"I noticed some people left as the game went along," he said. "It was a little quieter." Somewhere, between the lines in that droll quote, you'll probably find Utley.

As a book end to Utley's effort, Phils lefty Cliff Lee silenced the Yanks on six hits, allowed only an unearned run in the ninth, fanned 10, walked none and racked up his fourth straight victory of this postseason. Other than that, he was just all right. No doubt he planted the thought in Yankee minds that, while Sabathia may weigh 290 pounds, the slim 6-foot-3 Lee is quite a load himself.


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