NEW YORK - The grind to his game is demonstrated most emphatically when it is not there.
No one knows the toll the rest of this World Series will take on Chase Utley and his undisclosed hurts. All we know is that rest has been a great friend to him this time of the year.
A nine-pitch at-bat in the third. A home run. An 0-2 count in the sixth. Another home run, this one traveling about 20 rows into the rightfield bleachers. CC Sabathia had not allowed a home run to a lefthanded batter all season at Yankee Stadium until last night. No lefthanded batter but Babe Ruth had ever hit two home runs against a lefthander in World Series history.
"I guess that's pretty good company," he said.
Yeah, I guess.
Utley has not rested between games for this long since, well, the last Game 1 of the World Series. Six days passed between games this time. Six days between games the year before. Remember? Utley slammed a two-run home run over the rightfield wall in his first at-bat of the 2008 World Series. Cole Hamels pitched almost as well as Cliff Lee did last night, and the Phillies had stolen home-field advantage with a 3-2 victory.
They won, 6-1, last night. Lee's mastery of the Yankees was the story of this Game 1. But Utley's two knocks against Sabathia, who was 3-0 with a 1.19 earned run average this postseason, was equally foreboding.
"I said it yesterday," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's probably going to have a good series."
That would be huge. Because the Yankees are full of lefthanded pitchers. Because Sabathia probably will start three games if this World Series goes the distance. The Phillies had three extra-base hits before Sabathia exited after the seventh. Ryan Howard's first-inning double was the other one.
And because Utley's power, if the grind doesn't absorb it, is a weapon they really didn't have in the first two rounds.
"Anytime you can hit a home run or get a base hit, hit the ball hard, it gives you confidence for your next at-bat and the rest of your at-bats," Utley said. "So that's a good thing."
Utley hit a two-run home run in Game 1 of last year's National League Championship Series too. He had a two-run double against Milwaukee in Game 1 of the NL Division Series as well. In three Game 1s of 2008, the Phillies second baseman drove in six of their nine runs.
This year has been different. Utley had a hit and scored a run in the Phillies' 5-1 Game 1 victory over Colorado, but he struck out twice. He walked and scored a run in the Phillies' 8-6 victory over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS, but, again, something did not look right.
"He's just not seeing the ball well right now," Manuel said before the final game of the LCS. After batting .429 in four games against the Rockies, Utley hit .211 against the Dodgers, seemed to have trouble pivoting and throwing - seemed a mess, really.
Was it the right foot he fouled a ball off late in the season? Was his repaired right hip, which he rehabbed so vigorously during the offseason, bothering him?
"No, no," he said earlier this week.
Would he tell us if it was?
"Probably not," he said.
It is who he is, and it is maddeningly frustrating at times. Earlier in the evening, during a rambling pregame interview, Pedro Martinez opened his heart and poured out his feelings as if they were his blood. He spoke of pitching with a sore shoulder. He spoke of backpage photos that depicted him as the devil, of fans calling him awful things, about his manhood being questioned.
He seemed near tears at times, and it was great theater. Utley could live to be 100, could have his hip fall off. You will never get this from him.
It's why Philadelphia loves him. It's why so many get absolutely incensed on the rare occasions he is criticized. He is every mother's son, every man's John Wayne. If he wants to use the F-word in public every now and then, well, that's OK, too.
Because he's going to give you this. He's going to answer the questions about his health with two game-deciding bombs. He's going to grind out a nine-pitch
at-bat. Even when he wasn't hitting, when his contributions were a flare here, a flare there, Utley's approach never wavered.
"Make him work a little bit," he said. "He's a big, strong guy who can throw a lot of pitches and still be fine."
The difference last night was exactly that. Sabathia worked much harder than Lee did. Some of that was his fault, but a lot of it was the Phillies' patient approach. In the first inning last night, he took care of Jimmy Rollins with one pitch, got Victorino to pop up before Utley worked a 1-2 count into a walk. By the end of the inning, the Phillies had loaded the bases and Sabathia had thrown 24 pitches.
When Sabathia left after the seventh, he had thrown 113 pitches, had worked his way out of trouble all night. Two pitches cost him dearly.
Two pitches that, a week ago, he might have gotten away with. *
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