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PHILS' NEW WORRY: UTLEY'S ARM

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA - Chase Utley makes two costly throwing errors, and suddenly he's being mentioned with Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch.

Utley's fielding gaffes were the talk of the town when the Phillies returned home Saturday after splitting the first two games of the NL Championship Series at Los Angeles.

Game 3 is tonight in soggy Philadelphia, weather permitting. The forecast calls for showers all day, and it's expected to be 42 degrees at game time.

The weather will make it tough to grip the ball and make accurate throws. Utley, a four-time All-Star second baseman and arguably the team's best player, had enough problems throwing in sunny L.A. The Phillies overcame his blunder in Game 1, but it hurt them Friday.

Trailing 1-0, the Dodgers got their first two runners on in the eighth. After failing to put down a sacrifice, Russell Martin hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Pedro Feliz. It was a routine double-play ball, except Utley's relay sailed wide of first. Instead of two outs and a runner on third, the Dodgers had a run and one out. They scored again and held on for a 2-1 victory.

Utley wasn't around to speak to reporters during Saturday's one-hour, open clubhouse session. But manager Charlie Manuel and others had his back.

"I'm sure nobody in Philadelphia hates that more than Chase, but at the same time, he'll correct it," Manuel said. "I have all the faith in the world in him as far as that goes. That's going to happen to anybody."

Ronnie Belliard was bearing down on Utley and slid hard into second, possibly forcing him to rush his throw. Belliard, a fellow second baseman, sympathized with Utley.

"It's nothing mental," Belliard said. "He's a good second baseman. It's a difficult situation to turn a double play like that. You have to forget about it and do your job."

In the opener Thursday, Utley made a similarly poor throw on what should have been an inning-ending double-play grounder hit by Andre Ethier in the fifth. Pitcher Cole Hamels was visibly upset that shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Utley couldn't make the turn. Manny Ramirez hit a two-run homer that cut Philadelphia's lead to 5-4, but the Phillies won 8-6.

Rollins, a Gold Glove winner the past two years, was slow to shuffle the ball, and that may have thrown off Utley's timing.

Between the errors, Utley made three iffy throws on routine grounders. All resulted in outs, but his erratic tosses suggest this could be more than a simple case of two bad throws under difficult circumstances.

Sax, the NL rookie of the year with the Dodgers in 1982, inexplicably stopped being able to make routine throws to first in his sophomore season. Knoblauch began having the same problem shortly after joining the Yankees in 1999.

Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa, who managed Utley in his first two seasons, doesn't buy the comparison.

"No, no, no," he said. "I don't think it's a problem at all. He rushed two throws. It was coincidental that he did it two games in a row."

Up next:NLCS: GAME 4

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