Chase Utley gives the Phillies what they need in the regular season. For the first time, he's giving them what they need in the playoffs.
Utley, a career .298 hitter who has become a dependable 30-homer, 100-RBI producer in the regular season, entered his second playoff campaign batting .182. He didn't do much better in this season's National League Division Series win over Milwaukee, batting .133.
But Utley has awakened in time to push for a world championship. His two-run homer off Scott Kazmir in the first inning of Game 1 of the World Series gave the Phillies a lead they never lost in a 3-2 victory Wednesday over the Rays.
He had done the same in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers, hitting a two-run shot off Derek Lowe in the sixth inning to tie the score at 2. Two batters later, Pat Burrell's home run provided the margin in a 3-2 win by Cole Hamels.
"He's a big part of our offense," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He definitely gets big hits for us. He's a tremendous player. He's a tremendous hitter. And when he hits the ball definitely, he plays a big part in the lineup. When our offense is going good, you'll see the top of your order, that's what carries us. And he hits in the three hole, and he plays a big part of that."
Utley, 29, hit .353 with six walks and two doubles against the Dodgers, which was crucial for Philadelphia as his spike took pressure off slugger Ryan Howard, who continued his postseason slide. Entering Thursday's game, Howard is batting .229 and is homerless for almost a month batting behind Utley.
For the Rays, it's much the same dynamic as the ALCS: Left-handed slugging first baseman (David Ortiz) struggles while tenacious second baseman (Dustin Pedroia) hitting in front of him is enough to keep the lineup effective.
"Howard can put them in the stands and so can Utley. He's got a good approach," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought they played the game properly, and I liked that. So they're both very good. Pick your poison."
Utley, who set a career high with 33 homers this season and knocked in 104 runs, one off his career high, seemed unfazed by the biggest postseason moment of his career.
"I try to treat every day the same, whether it's the first day of spring training," he said. "I feel it's easier on yourself to do it that way. No game is bigger than another game. Obviously, we came out on top (Wednesday), but now we have to focus on (the next game)."
Stone Cole good
The Phillies' Cole Hamels is the 10th starting pitcher to win four games in one postseason:
Cole Hamels 2008
Josh Beckett 2007
Randy Johnson* 2001
Curt Schilling 2001
David Wells 1998
John Smoltz 1996
Orel Hershiser 1995
Jack Morris 1991
Dave Stewart 1989
Burt Hooton 1981
* Johnson and Francisco Rodriguez (2002) hold the record for most wins (five) in one postseason. One of Johnson's wins and all of Rodriguez's came in relief.
Other Hamels highlights
- Fourth pitcher to win Game 1 of LDS, LCS and World Series in one postseason. The others: Smoltz (1996), Wells (1998), Beckett (2007).
- Third-youngest left-handed starter to win World Series opener. Babe Ruth and Ray Sadecki (both 23) were younger.
- First lefty to win Game 1 on the road in 22 years (Boston's Bruce Hurst at Mets, 1986).