Utley sparks Phillies in win over Cubs

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

CHICAGO - It's early, and the schedule makers and baseball gods have been kind to the Phillies in this first week of the season.

And after a 2-0 win Saturday over the Chicago Cubs, they have an air of confidence.

The luck showed up in Texas for opening day; instead of Yu Darvish's varied menu of dominant pitches, the Phillies faced a kid named Tanner Scheppers, who had trouble throwing strikes in his first major-league start. The Phils won by scoring two touchdowns on 17 hits.

After walk-off losses in winnable games to close out the series with the Rangers, the Phillies got a day off and a date at ancient Wrigley Field with the Chicago Cubs, one of the few teams predicted to be worse than them this season.

The Phillies could be 5-0 - they should be at least 4-1 - but they are 3-2 after Cliff Lee rebounded from his jagged opening-day performance to pitch seven scoreless innings Saturday afternoon.

A white-hot Chase Utley scored both Phillies runs, accounting for the first with a two-out home run to right field off Chicago ace Jeff Samardzija in the first inning. Utley finished 3 for 3 with a walk and raised his team-leading average to .476, which is the best five-game start of his career.


Should the Phillies find another closer?

"He's feeling good, and he's in great shape," said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg, whose team won its second straight in his old stomping grounds. "He's very healthy and he looks good."

Lee wasn't the only pitcher to bounce back from an opening-series massacre. Closer Jonathan Papelbon, three days removed from his Texas-sized meltdown, delivered a perfect ninth inning for his first save after Jake Diekman, making his fourth appearance in five games, pitched a scoreless eighth.

Papelbon admitted it was good to get a save after blowing Wednesday's game, but said he never stays up or down for too long.

"This is what I do," the closer said. "This is what I chose to do. I take the ups with the downs. For some reason I enjoy it. I don't know why. Sometimes I ask myself why I've chosen this role, then other times I enjoy it. I'm already thinking about tomorrow again. It's a roller-coaster ride. I liked Space Mountain as a kid, you know what I'm saying?"

Lee's seven-inning ride through the Cubs' lineup wasn't a roller coaster, but he did encounter quite a bit of turbulence while scattering 10 hits.

"Yeah, I mean, I still had to battle a little bit," Lee said. "They had their fair share of hits. I was able to make pitches when I needed to. But, yeah, seven innings, no runs, I'll take that every time."

Lee, who got the most improbable win of his career in his opening-day start at Texas, improved to 2-0. He did not walk a batter and struck out six. He was at his absolute best whenever the Cubs placed runners in scoring position, which was in all but two of his seven innings. The Cubs went down in order just once, but they were hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.

The lefthander's most difficult escape act came in the third, when he surrendered consecutive singles to Samardzija and Emilio Bonifacio to open the inning. Ahead in the count, 1-2, Lee threw Starlin Castro a nasty change-up and induced a double-play grounder to shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Lee also left Chicago runners stranded at third base in the fourth and seventh innings by recording strikeouts on Welington Castillo and Justin Ruggiano.

Lee was also the recipient of some sensational defense. Marlon Byrd, playing in the park he called home for parts of three seasons, chased down a Justin Ruggiano flyball and made a basket catch for the second out of the first inning, and Rollins, back from paternity leave, made a great play and strong throw on a Darwin Barney grounder at the start of the fifth inning.

It's only five games, and the last two have been against a bad team, but confidence can only be built by winning, and the Phillies are off to a decent start with a chance to go home Sunday with a 4-2 record.

"That's good," Lee said. "You'd rather have early positive results than the other alternatives. As of right now, we're playing good baseball and doing everything we can do to win."