Last night felt like something special took place at Citizens Bank Park.
Chase Utley’s return from the disabled list had a feel of pomp and circumstances. There were so many photographers and media members surrounding him before the game started. Fans gave him a standing ovation when he came to the plate in three of his at-bats. This is what happens when a team misses a player like him for so long.
Utley showed why the Phillies missed him based on his performance last night. He did not miss a beat as he ran well and hit the ball with authority. He had three hits in his five at-bats, including a home run in the first inning. He was on base four times.
It was surprising to see him play well after not playing for a long time. It takes many at-bats and good timing for a hitter to get into a groove. The thought was Utley would get a hit in his return. He exceeded expectations, and he even couldn’t believe what he did if one put a truth serum on him.
When Utley homered in the first inning, it was stunning. Not even filmmakers could have scripted this out. It had the crowd going along with the Phillies in the dugout. It was good enough for the Phillies star to do a curtain call.
Utley almost homered in the third inning. With the way he hit it, the crowd anticipated the ball to be out of here. Instead, it landed on the mitt of Andrew McCutchen. Had it been a home run, it would have been a tied game at 3.
Utley hustled to beat a throw from third in the sixth inning, and it was good enough for him to be safe at first. He was rewarded with a single. This stood out since everyone was concerned about how he was going to run after coming back from an injury. He answered that question well.
The Phillies veteran ended his night with a walk.
Utley also made great plays on defense. He read the ball well in where he was heading.
Utley has had better moments than last night in his career. That said, he is not going to forget the night he had in coming back. He had to wonder if he was going to play with that nagging injury he had. He had to question if he could be the same player he was going to be. He missed being with the guys and playing everyday. Sometimes a player appreciates what he has until he does not have it anymore. There’s no question the Phillies superstar is thankful that he gets to be back.
It remains to be seen if he can sustain this. He was playing on adrenaline, and that can get a player to get by. He is still going to feel the effects of his injury at times this year. He is going to go through bad stretches. After working his way back in the game, it’s hard to think things will go smoothly with him.
Still, having him back is a good thing for the Phillies. He is a great hitter. He is a difference maker. He does things that are hard for others to do. Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins and other hitters did the best they could, but they are not Utley.
It takes a special player to know how to beat out a throw. It takes a great player to come up with big moments. It takes a stud to make great plays on defense. This is what Utley does. He is the complete package. He brings certain tangible to a team, and it is not a coincidence the Phillies started being an elite team with him anchoring that team. Guys like him are hard to find, and guys like him are irreplaceable.
This is why no one should take Utley for granted. There are not many teams that can boast a special player, and the Phillies are fortunate have one.
It is too bad for Utley that the Phillies couldn’t get a good pitching performance from their bullpen-by-committee. Maybe it was too much to ask. With Raul Valdes starting, this might as well be a throwaway game.
Maybe the Phillies should have played Utley today rather than last night in a game the team would have a better chance to win with a proven starter out on the mound. Such a shame a loss ruined the good moment Utley had.
Maybe they should have made Utley pitch in the third inning to save the Phillies from embarrassment. He couldn’t be worse. With the way everything went right for him in his return, he could have gotten some outs and save the rest of the bullpen in the process.
The pitching put a blemish on what should have been an enjoyable moment for Utley. It shows not even Utley can save this Phillies team.
Still, this loss should not diminish any appreciation one should have for Utley last night even if the star does not feel that way.