Top Five Chase Utley Moments

Chase Utley turned 35 years old today. Having recently signed a new contract extension with the Phillies, he’s looking forward to the 2014 season, which will be his 12th in the big leagues. He didn’t miss a significant amount of time due to injury, racking up more than 475 plate appearances for the first time since 2010. Utley was the team’s most productive player in 2013 by many measures. Not surprising.

Rather than look forward, I’d like to look back on Utley’s career. Inspired by this thread on /r/Phillies, let’s go over the top-five moments of his career.

5. Any of his three inside-the-park home runs

Utley has hit three inside-the-park home runs over his career: only has a highlight clip for the Zito ITPHR, so here it is:

4. Utley’s two-homer game against the Yankees in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series

Back in 2009, CC Sabathia was not only the ace of the Yankees’ rotation, he was considered one of the most formidable arms in baseball. He was a workhorse just two seasons separated from the AL Cy Young award. Worse, he was hell on left-handed hitters, holding them to a .560 OPS during the 2009 regular season — bad news for the 3-4 combination of Utley and Ryan Howard. Utley, however, wasn’t fazed as he took Sabathia deep twice: a solo shot in the top of the third to put the Phillies up 1-0, and another solo shot in the top of the sixth to move the score to 2-0.

The first homer, a nine-pitch at-bat:

The second homer:

3. Utley makes his first impression in the Majors in grand style

When you look back on the lineup the 2003 Phillies put together — Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Jim Thome, Mike Lieberthal, and Utley — it’s no surprise they finished with the fifth-most runs scored in the National League. Utley was just getting his feet wet in the Majors that year (he played in just 43 games) but he certainly made an impression when he hit his first career Major League home run. With the Phillies already up 2-0 over Rockies starter Aaron Cook, Utley went deep to right field for a grand slam in the bottom of the third inning at Veterans Stadium. Bonus nostalgia with Harry Kalas making the call:

Notice the batting stance, too.

2. “Chase Utley, you are the man!”

Some of baseball’s most exciting plays involve a tremendous amount of hustle — the aforementioned inside-the-park home run, a straight steal of home, a diving play in the gap. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more exciting play than what happened on August 9, 2006 at Turner Field in Atlanta. The Braves had taken a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth but their bullpen was letting the lead slip away in the top of the seventh. Tyler Yates walked in a run with the bases loaded when manager Bobby Cox yanked him for lefty Macay McBride to face Utley and Ryan Howard. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Utley laced a double to left-center, clearing the bases and putting the Phillies up 5-3. But that wasn’t the exciting part.

On the first pitch of the at-bat against McBride, Howard drove a low fastball right into the ground — “chopped”, as Kalas put it, about 20 feet into the air. McBride grabbed the ball and casually tossed to first baseman Scott Thorman. Utley was stampeding around third base, making his way home. Thorman fired to catcher Todd Pratt but it was too late as Utley safely slid in under the tag. Kalas said in excitement, “Chase Utley, you are the man!”

“You Are the Man!” from Maria Bazurto on Vimeo.

1. The Deke

“The Deke” is one of the most important plays in World Series history but it has unfortunately been lost in time. Utley saved the Phillies’ hide in Game 5 of the World Series, but because it wasn’t a home run or a play that ended the game, it was forgotten with memories fresh in mind of Brad Lidge dropping to his knees in celebration after recording the final out or Utley’s own celebratory “World Fuckin’ Champions!” in front of a packed Citizens Bank Park after winning the championship.

With Bartlett on second base, Akinori Iwamura hit a grounder up the middle to Utley. Given that Utley’s momentum was taking him towards left field and Iwamura’s speed, there was basically no chance for Utley to spin and fire to first for the out. Utley appeared to try anyway, making an off-balance throw towards Howard at first base. Rays third base coach Tom Foley bought it, waving Bartlett home. There was just one problem: Utley never actually made the throw. Instead, Utley pump-faked towards first base, then fired home to catcher Carlos Ruiz, who corralled the ball and dove to apply the tag to Bartlett just in time to record the final out of the inning and preserve a 3-3 tie.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a baseball play that requires more baseball smarts and instincts, and even harder-pressed to find one successfully made in a deciding World Series game.

(skip to 1:40)

Just missed the cut: Utley coming out to a round of boos at the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. His response? “Boo? Fuck you.” (video)

What is the best moment of Chase Utley’s career?

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If we are fortunate, we should see another memorable moment or two over the next two years, perhaps more if any of his three options for 2016-18 vest.

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