Second baseman knocks in National League's first run in return to All-Star Game
MINNEAPOLIS -- As Chase Utley progressed through the early years of his career, he had the pleasure of being an All-Star and postseason participant on an annual basis. Knee ailments and the inconsistency the Phillies have recently experienced have forced him to spend the past few years without tasting the satisfaction created by these events.
With the Phillies seemingly set to enter a rebuilding mode, Utley has made it clear that his no-trade rights will keep him in Philadelphia with the hope that his longtime club might rise to become a contender again within the next few years.
While it remains to be seen when the Phillies will return to the postseason, Utley had the satisfaction of once again serving as the National League's starting second baseman in Tuesday night's All-Star Game at Target Field. He doubled in his first at-bat and exited without any apparent injury after being grazed by a Chris Sale pitch in the fourth inning. But his contributions were not enough to prevent the American League from claiming a 5-3 win.
"Obviously, it's nice to contribute," Utley said. "It was just fun being out there. The electricity the crowd brought was special. It was nice to be back in an atmosphere like this."
Fueled by the excitement of being an All-Star for the first time since 2010, it did not take the Phillies veteran long to make his presence known for the NL.
After the AL tallied three first-inning runs off Adam Wainwright, Utley fueled the NL's two-run second inning with an RBI double off Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester. The hit was Utley's first in an All-Star Game since he singled during the sixth inning of the 15-inning classic that was played at old Yankee Stadium in 2008.
Utley came around to score in the second and then saw Dee Gordon cross the plate after replacing him as a pinch-runner in the fourth. Gordon scored on Jonathan Lucroy's game-tying double.
"I haven't been to one of these in four years," Utley said before the game. "Obviously, it's good to be back. Being here brings back memories of how hectic and crazy it is. But it's fun."
It is also fun for baseball to once again have a chance to celebrate the talents of a healthy Utley. During his first five full seasons (2005-09) as Philadelphia's second baseman, he combined to hit .301 with a .922 OPS. He also averaged 29 homers. No other second baseman averaged more than 24 homers or produced an OPS greater than .847 during this stretch.
"He's such a hard worker and such a great baseball mind and talent," former Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence said. "For the game of baseball to have him healthy, I think it's something that makes the game better. He truly is a special player."
Beginning in 2006, Utley started four consecutive All-Star Games. He was elected to start a fifth straight but was unable to play in the 2010 contest because of a thumb injury he suffered while sliding into second base. When the 2011-12 All-Star Games passed without Utley gaining a selection, he was in the midst of a two-year stretch in which there was reason to wonder if his chronic knee soreness would prematurely end his career.
While Utley has not yet regained the power he displayed in his younger days, he has at least started to once again look a little more like he did during the prime years of his career. He hit .284 with 23 homers and an .823 OPS in 131 games last year. Building on that success and proving he can indeed stay healthy, Utley has batted .293 with a .794 OPS in 91 games this season.
Unfortunately, this production has not been enough for him to keep the Phillies out of last place in the NL East. But it was good enough to reintroduce him to that thrill of once again being an All-Star.
"The last two years I've felt pretty good," Utley said. "I've for the most part been able to stay on the field. I feel when I'm on the field, I can still be productive."