Happy Sunday night, or Monday morning. Today was all about Utley, Chan Ho, the birds and the bees, and the return of Olbermann.
As you may know, Chase Utley played in his first Grapefruit League game today. He played four innings, went 0 for 2, and said that he felt pretty good afterwards. Tomorrow will likely be an off day for him, but you never know with this situation. When Pete Mackanin tacked the lineup on a bulletin board in the Phils locker room this morning, we reporters were surprised, because both Charlie Manuel and Ruben Amaro stressed yesterday that Utley’s return would happen slowly.
But Utley felt good this morning after playing in an intrasquad game yesterday, and he decided to play today (Saturday's game was another surprise, by the way, because the team had maintained that Utley wouldn’t play until next week. Manuel admitted late Saturday that that the intrasquad appearance had been planned for days--strange to be so secretive about good news). He said afterward that opening night felt like an attainable goal.
In comments and emails, some of you are asking if such a speedy return is responsible behavior on the part of Utley and team. It is a good question, and I have asked it too, because I have covered teams (not the Phillies) that have prematurely pushed injured players into action. This is an important ethics issue to monitor in sports, because the suck-it-up-and-play mentality can be a health risk for athletes who find it difficult to admit when they are not ready.
In this case, the team says that they have taken every precaution with Utley. Amaro and Utley have pointed out that the original timetable after the Nov. 24 surgery called for a return in four to six months, and it has been nearly four months. Utley says that he is monitoring his health and working with the team to set a responsible rehab schedule. So, for the sake of the man’s health, let’s all hope they know what they’re doing.
As we were watching Utley in the early innings of today’s game, the largest collection of bees I’ve ever seen began to swirl above the third-base box seats. The swarm became so thick as to obstruct our view of the field. I have never been so glad to be behind glass in the press box.
The fans sitting below us failed to notice at first, but the bees eventually began swooping downward, and within minutes entire sections had emptied of fans. The players started to get nervous—you could see them peering over the top of the dugout, not knowing whether to laugh or run. Back up in the press box, Keith Olbermann, returning for another day in Clearwater, started snapping pictures with his iPhone and making booming wisecracks. At one point, several gulls flew into the swarm, causing someone to adopt a public address-type voice and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, today’s game was cancelled because of the birds and the bees.” Maybe you had to be there to laugh at that one…
The mysterious swarm eventually made their way toward left field and was gone, allowing us to refocus on the game. Jayson Werth continued to hit well, going 2 for 3 with an RBI, lifting his average to .350. Greg Dobbs was 2 for 3; he’s now batting .333. Matt Stairs (not a typo) stole a base. And Jason Ellison knocked in Miguel Cairo in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Phillies a 2-1 win over St. Louis.
The Cardinals brought many players from their everyday lineup, but Chan Ho Park treated them like minor leaguers on a back field. He whiffed Albert Pujols on a curveball in the first, and eventually controlled Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, Chris Duncan and prospect Colby Rasmus, throwing 4 2/3 scoreless innings and striking out six. The race between Park and J.A. Happ has really intensified, and Rich Dubee is offering no clues as to which pitcher is ahead. Both have looked focused, aggressive and highly effective.
Tomorrow, we go to Tampa to watch the Phillies play the Yankees. Kyle Kendrick gets, as Dubee would say, another whack at it.