Philadelphia Phillies' Chase Utley becomes Mr. October II

For more than 30 years, he has watched as the game's greatest players have taken their best shot at him. Hall of Famers and sluggers. Steroid freaks and All-Stars. From Willie Stargell to Barry Bonds, and from Mike Schmidt to Mark McGwire. Every year has been another opportunity for some upstart with a Louisville Slugger to challenge the standard of the Fall set by Reggie Jackson. And when the moment finally arrived, when Chase Utley finally tied Mr. October's record of five home runs in a single World Series, Jackson was sitting in the quiet of the Yankees clubhouse consoling someone else. "I was talking to A.J. (Burnett) after he had come out of the game," Jackson said late Tuesday afternoon, standing outside the Yankees clubhouse on the off day before Game 6. "We were talking about his disappointment, and how everything he

wanted hadn't happened the way he expected.

"So that's where I was when I look up and — oh by the way — Utley just hit his fifth home run. How about that?"

Yes, how about that?

One incredible record now shared by two disparate men. It's as if Utley came along to find Reggie in some parallel universe. For when it comes to Reggie Jackson, no spotlight is too bright and no conversation too long. As for Chase Utley, publicity is a headache and talking is overrated.

Jackson once referred to himself as the straw that stirs the drink in New York. Utley recalls his father saying it was unnecessary to tell the world how good you are because, if you really were, others would say it for you.

On the night he swung at three consecutive pitches and hit three consecutive home runs against the Dodgers in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, Jackson was sharing drinks with then-New York Gov. Hugh Carey at a Manhattan bar until 5 o'clock the next morning.

Utley wasn't around Yankee Stadium on Tuesday to share his postgame itinerary after hitting two homers in Game 5 Monday night in Philadelphia, but it's probably safe to assume Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and a corner bar stool were not involved.

In a way, this disparity is part of the game's beauty. That generations can be linked and memories merged in ways never expected.

Chase Utley is a terrific hitter. One of the absolute best of his era. But when it comes to tying the greatest home run record of the postseason, he was probably not the odds-on favorite. Not once did he hit five home runs in a five-game span this season.

McGwire could have done it. He hit home runs at a more ferocious pace than any player in history. But he had one homer in his three World Series appearances. Schmidt could have done it. He led the league eight times. But he had two homers in a pair of World Series appearances.

"Bonds could have done it," Jackson said. "Bonds would have broke that record if they had pitched to him in '02."

Instead, it was the Yankees who chose to pitch to Utley. And, presumably, are now regretting it. In Philadelphia's two victories in the World Series, Utley has four home runs and six RBIs.

"I don't even like to talk about him because he doesn't want me to," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said after Game 5. "But he is one of the most prepared, one of the most dedicated, and he has the most desire and passion to play the game that I've ever been around.

"I used to say Kirby Puckett was my favorite player. All those things I just said? I used to say it about Kirby Puckett. The only thing Kirby might have on Chase was he was more flamboyant because he smiled a lot. Chase is a little bit different. He's quiet and he goes about his business in a real good way."

Of course, Utley still has time to do more damage in this Series. Jackson had six games to hit his five homers in '77. Utley reached five by the end of Game 5 and will get another shot tonight in Game 6, possibly in a Game 7.

If the thought unnerves Jackson, he's not showing it. Now a special adviser with the Yankees, he was relaxed and chatty around the batting cage during Tuesday's workout and seemed more concern about the plight of the team than his legacy.

"I'm proud of the record. Absolutely. And if he hits seven, I'll still be proud of the five I hit," Jackson said. "I got three in Game 6 and we won the World Series, and that's a memory I will always have. Now, I will say I don't want him to hit any more homers because if he does we may lose. But if he hits six or seven, and we still win the World Series, then I'm good to go."

Before he walks away, I mention to Jackson that he does share some similarities with Utley. Both were left-handed hitters and neither has a typical slugger's body. Jackson looks barely 5 feet 9. Utley is listed at 170 pounds.

"You know the answer? He's a great player," Jackson said. "Forget the size. I always said, be small but play big."

When it came to home runs in the World Series, there was never anyone as big as Reggie Jackson.

Until Chase Utley came along.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Philadelphia Phillies' Chase Utley becomes Mr. October II 11/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 11:01pm]

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