Utley's first LA homer cashes in Kersh's gem
LOS ANGELES -- The other hero of the game for the Dodgers was Chase Utley.
His game-winning home run became a footnote Wednesday night, but without it, Clayton Kershaw would have had a 15-strikeout, hang-with-'em no-decision.
Instead, Utley's tiebreaking homer in the sixth inning was decisive in the Dodgers' 2-1 win over the Giants for a series sweep of one-run victories.
It was exactly the kind of meaningful moment Utley was counting on when he agreed to the trade that sent him packing from Philadelphia, where he played for 12 years.
"Every game was a tight game, exciting game, and the fans were into it," he said of his first Dodgers-Giants series. "It felt like playoff-atmosphere baseball, and it's fun to be part of."
Kershaw was engulfed postgame by a media scrum worthy of the postseason. Utley got the stragglers, who along with the perfunctory questions about his first home run as a Dodger wanted to know what it was like playing behind Kershaw instead of facing him.
"Not knowing him, he's a hard worker, now that I've been watching him a little bit," said Utley, who has played behind Cy Young winners Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
"He puts a good game plan together, as far as attacking the hitter, and he's able to execute and that makes him extremely tough. He works quick, which is important for infielders. He hits his location extremely often. He's got dominant stuff. I don't know how many strikeouts he had, but we didn't have a whole lot of action out there."
To be exact, Utley fielded one ground ball. Maybe he'll have more action when he gets a shot at third base, where the Dodgers have been working him over the past week so he can spell Justin Turner.
Being traded to the Dodgers hasn't been the easiest transition for Utley, a California native and former UCLA star acquired as an emergency replacement for the injured Howie Kendrick. He came into the game batting .194 since being traded for Darnell Sweeney, who has already made a splash in Philadelphia with a 1.046 OPS in 24 at-bats.
But with one out in the sixth inning, Utley crushed a 2-1 sinker from Mike Leake and it cleared the center-field fence.
"I definitely wasn't trying to hit a home run there, just hit it hard and see what happens," he said. "Obviously, it was the winning run, and that definitely means a lot, especially with Clayton on the mound. I've played a lot of games against him and I thought he was a very good pitcher. Now that I'm playing behind him, I realize he's an extremely good pitcher."
Although the win extended the Dodgers' lead to 6 1/2 games, Utley's words were measured when asked what he thought of the Dodgers chances for winning the division.
"The name of the game is pitching, and obviously with Kershaw and [Zack] Greinke one-two, that's a good start," he said. "We have to continue to improve. I feel there are improvements to be made and we have a month to do that."