Chase Utley sets tone for the defending champion Phillies

By Thomas Boswell
Thursday, October 29, 2009


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.

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 will have set the pattern of this whole confrontation as well. In all three of the Phillies' postseason series in '08 on their title run, Utley was the first-game hitting hero. The Phils lost only one game in each of those series.

With his solo blasts, Utley punctuated New York's $161 million free agent southpaw twice with exclamation points of his own. In the history of Yankee Stadium, all iterations, only one left-handed hitter had ever hit two Series homers in a game off a left-handed pitcher: Babe Ruth. Now, it's Babe and Chase.

To almost match Utley's effort, Phils lefty Cliff Lee silenced the Yanks on six hits, allowed only an unearned run in the ninth and racked up his fourth straight victory of this postseason. He also planted the thought in Yankees minds that, while Sabathia may weigh 290 pounds, the slim, 6-foot-3 Lee is quite a load himself.

While the Phils' bullpen never had to stand up all night, the Yankees gave up a deluge of four runs in the eighth and ninth as the Phils treated five New York relievers with complete disdain. Granted, none of them was named Mariano Rivera. But all of them, even though most are young or have little postseason experience, are supposed to be the bridge to Rivera. Unless they do far better, there may be games in this series where that is a bridge too far.

So, say hello to the Phillies. The Angels and Twins seemed stage-struck here. Los Angeles made five errors to give away two games. Philadelphia looked like it was having a ball all night. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins even pulled a trick, turning a soft infield liner into two outs as the Yanks looked around confused.

A crowd of 50,207 was announced. If you looked, you could see them. If you listened? The $1.5-billion park might've been empty.

Few Series pitching duels are as anticipated as this matchup of Cy Young Award winners. However, in such duels, it is sometimes one exceptionally tough-minded and cussed hitter who actually shifts the game with his defiance.

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