PHILADELPHIA -- The fans had already seen what they came for. They had greeted Chase Utley upon his return to Philadelphia with a standing ovation of nearly 90 seconds. And Utley had returned the favor with a home run and subsequent curtain call in the fifth.But Utley has never settled
PHILADELPHIA -- The fans had already seen what they came for. They had greeted Chase Utley upon his return to Philadelphia with a standing ovation of nearly 90 seconds. And Utley had returned the favor with a home run and subsequent curtain call in the fifth.
But Utley has never settled for adequate. When he dug in with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, there was a reason jokes wafted through Citizens Bank Park that, Hey, wouldn't it be so stereotypically Utley to park a ball here?
Then he did.
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The fans, for the fourth time on the evening, went wild. Utley finished rounding the bases and entered the dugout, only to exit seconds later for his second curtain call of the game. The clout was the punctuation on Los Angeles' 15-5 win, which pushed it past San Francisco, who lost to Pittsburgh, for first place in the National League West.
"It happened pretty quickly," Utley said. "I know my [solo] home run I hit for my first hit, I was moving pretty quickly there around the bases. But maybe you can check Statcast™."
Statcast™ calculated that Utley circled the bases on the first homer in 18.6 seconds, his fastest home-run trot of the season by almost a full second.
Fans roared and rose to their feet before Utley's name had even been announced for his first at-bat. Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" begun playing from the loudspeakers, and Utley stepped from the on-deck circle into the batter's box.
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From the scheduled first pitch time of 7:05 p.m. ET until it was actually thrown at 7:08, Citizens Bank Park was stuck in time. Some were taking in the spectacle of Utley's first appearance back in the town in which he spent the first 13 seasons of his career. Others were harkening back to those years, which have been so often referred to as "the good times."
The fans clapped and screamed. Utley turned and waved. He pointed to the fans and to Ryan Howard, who pointed back. Finally, Utley closed his fist, pounded his chest one last time and raised it toward the sky before taking strike one from Vince Velasquez.
After a minute and a half of applause, Utley experienced a new sensation: nerves.
"The standing ovation my first at-bat is something I'll never forget," Utley said. "It was probably one of the most nervous at-bats I've ever had, honestly, at any level. I was glad to get that first at-bat over with, to be honest."
By his third at-bat, though, those nerves had turned into full-blown adrenaline.
"We had a lot of practice with that over the years," Utley said, referencing his playoff runs with the Phillies. "Adrenaline can be your friend at times. Definitely a lot of adrenaline flowing tonight."
Utley should get a full serving of adrenaline this season. The Dodgers are in the midst of a pennant chase. Meanwhile, the Phillies are two years into a rebuilding process that has seen every player from the teams that won five consecutive division titles depart except for Howard and Carlos Ruiz.
"We had a lot of great times here at this stadium," Utley said before the game. "But in that five-year run, it was pretty special. When you look back on it, I just feel fortunate to have been on the team at that time. Because we had a pretty good squad."
When the Phillies traded Utley last season, Howard and Ruiz became the lone remaining members of the 2008 World Series team. Their reunion has been a long time coming.
The day Utley was dealt -- nearly a year ago to the day -- the Phillies held him out of the lineup as they finalized his move to Los Angeles. There were moving pieces, and the trade didn't get announced until about an hour after the last out of Utley's last game in Philadelphia. He tipped his cap to the fans afterward, but he was robbed of a proper farewell.
"I didn't really have an opportunity to say goodbye," Utley said. "Everything kind of happened pretty quickly last year. If I were to write up a script it would have gone a bit differently."
So in the moments leading up to Utley taking that first-pitch strike, it offered fans a chance to pay their respects to a catalyst in five division titles, two pennants and a World Series championship. The good times.
They stacked five deep down the left-field line as Utley was the first Dodger on the field for pregame stretches. They piled over each other when Utley walked over and signed autographs up and down the line for 15 minutes. The first standing "O" came as his name was announced in the starting lineups (contrasted with an immediate round of boos for No. 2 hitter Corey Seager).
It was the farewell that Utley never received. The treatment that Jimmy Rollins got after being traded to Los Angeles earlier last year. The same as Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino and the other 19 since-departed Phillies who hoisted the World Series trophy in the air that October 2008 night.
Utley is one of the few still playing. Jayson Werth is in Washington; Cole Hamels is awaiting his return in Texas. Joe Blanton, like Rollins last season, was reunited with Utley in the Dodgers' clubhouse.
But Utley, now 37, has no plans on making this his final return trip to Philly. Although he's looking to sell his Philadelphia condo, he wants to continue playing after this season. Utley, however, finds himself in the middle of another pennant chase. He hasn't had much time to think about the future.
It's not because of his on-base percentage or speed that manager Dave Roberts keeps Utley in the leadoff spot. The reason, like what so often separated Utley from the pack, is what doesn't show up on the stat sheet.
"The biggest thing for me why I keep him in the leadoff spot is because of his at-bat quality," Roberts said. "If there's any player that you have to dig deeper than the numbers to find his value, it's Chase."
Evan Webeck is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia.