Utley homers in 8th as Phillies sweep Marlins
A single rose decorated the broadcast booth named in honor of Harry Kalas at Citizens Bank Park. Sunday – a gorgeous, summerlike spring day – marked five years since Kalas’ death, and you could almost hear his voice in the eighth inning when Chase Utley delivered a 4-3 Phillies victory over Miami.
Kalas dubbed him The Man in 2006, and not much has changed, even after knee problems threatened the second baseman’s career. Utley’s solo homer in the eighth Sunday sealed a series sweep of the Marlins. It evened the Phillies’ record at 6-6.
Utley leads the majors in everything. He is batting .500. His on-base percentage is .565. His slugging percentage is .875.
“It’s a pleasure,” outfielder Domonic Brown said.
“It’s pretty awesome to watch,” righthander B.J. Rosenberg said.
“Yeah,” starter Kyle Kendrick said, “he’s pretty good.”
Utley reached base four times Sunday. He is an unstoppable force, save the flu that subtracted him from the lineup for two days. (The Phillies lost both times.) A hot streak, naturally, is not something to be discussed with Utley.
“I’ve had some decent days,” Utley said.
The bullpen held for three perfect innings. Kendrick gutted through 115 pitches and snared a line drive that might have decapitated him. The Phillies mashed 13 hits and drew six walks. But they still needed a clutch swing from Utley.
Utley is the first Phillies player to have a 20-for-40 stretch at the plate since Von Hayes in 1989, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He has a 10-game hitting streak (15 games if the end of 2013 is included) and has multiple hits in seven of those 10 games.
He looked to have pushed the Phillies ahead in the sixth with a double. But Tony Gwynn Jr. was nailed at home because he hesitated coming around third base. Manager Ryne Sandberg asked for a review, which took 54 seconds and changed nothing.
Both Sandberg and Gwynn expressed confusion about the new home-plate collision rules. They contended that Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia blocked the plate with his knee before he caught the ball, which is no longer allowed.
“The way that it was explained to me was that because I didn’t start my slide yet before he got the ball, he’s allowed to block the plate,” Gwynn said. “That’s not how it was explained at spring training. So I think there’s going to be a lot of that going on until there is an interpretation of what that rule is.”
“I’ll have to do some research on that,” Sandberg said.
Utley later rendered that sequence meaningless. He scored two runs – the other came on a two-run double by Wil Nieves in the fifth. Nieves, the team’s backup catcher, smacked three hits Sunday. Gwynn, who has won playing time in center field, was on base three times.
The Phillies have walked a league-leading 49 times this season. They were among the majors’ worst in on-base percentage and walk rate in 2013. Sandberg bemoaned the team’s lack of hits with runners on base – the Phillies stranded 13 on Sunday – but is encouraged by his team’s approach.
So is Utley, the hottest hitter in baseball.
“It’s all about having trust in the guy behind you, not trying to do too much at the dish,” Utley said. “It’s hard at times to tell yourself that, but that’s a good game plan.”
This was Utley’s day, and so far, this season is unlike any other for the second baseman. He could go hitless in his next 26-at bats and still be hitting .303.
Gwynn, who watched Utley for seven seasons from afar as a National League opponent, said he thought Utley was a “baller.”
“And he continues to be a baller,” Gwynn said. “He’s healthy now and when guys with his talent are healthy, you are seeing what you are going to get.”
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