Commentary

Utley's HR power speaks loudly for him

Quiet, driven second baseman more focused on winning than on Reggie-esque display

Originally Published: November 2, 2009
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has numerous positive attributes, but a flair for media relations isn't among them. Ask Utley to expound upon his personal achievements, and he'll offer up platitudes wrapped in a monotone inside a blank expression.

Reporters often feel obligated to wait out Utley for a comment after big games. But the guy is better than an athlete's foot epidemic at emptying a locker room.

Insight-starved media members shouldn't feel slighted. Early in the World Series, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was asked what makes Utley special. In a 377-word soliloquy, Manuel was particularly complimentary of Utley's preparation.

"He's the first guy that comes to the ballpark every day," Manuel said. "If you walk in there and you want to go eat lunch with him, he's going to tell you to go take a hike -- that he's going to do his work. I love that part about him."

That one-man long ball epidemic Utley is staging at the 2009 World Series? It's just an afterthought to a singular objective. Here's a hint: It involves champagne and a parade down Broad Street.

The Phillies needed to make a statement early in Game 5 of the World Series, and their stoic second baseman provided it. Utley's three-run homer off A.J. Burnett gave the Phillies a 3-1 first-inning lead. When he added a solo shot off Phil Coke in the seventh, it helped give Cliff Lee and the bullpen enough of a cushion for the Phillies to hang on and win 8-6 to force a sixth game Wednesday night in New York.

Utley is traveling in some elite company this fall. His five homers have tied the single-series postseason record set by Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson in the 1977 World Series. His seven career World Series home runs are the most ever by a second baseman. And his five Series homers against left-handed pitchers tie him with Babe Ruth for second place on the career list behind Mickey Mantle, who went deep seven times against lefties.

[+] EnlargeChase Utley
Rich Pilling/Getty ImagesChase Utley hit two home runs and scored three runs in Game 5.
It would be nice to say Utley's teammates saw him enter the clubhouse with a spring in his step and a winning gleam in his eye and sensed that he would do something special in Game 5. But that's the way Utley approaches his job every day, from the start of spring training through the day he cleans out his locker. Winning is paramount, and anything that conflicts with the pursuit of winning is an intrusion.

"Anything that doesn't involve getting better is like background noise to him," Phillies reliever Chad Durbin said. "You can almost see him thinking, 'I have to eat -- crap. I'm not going to get that extra five minutes of video because I have to throw down this peanut butter and jelly sandwich.'"

Like Alex Rodriguez, Utley has enjoyed multiple high points interspersed with a few downs this postseason. In the division series against Colorado, Utley landed in the middle of the umpiring controversy du jour when he reached first base on a chopper that actually struck him in the batter's box. Then he made a couple of wayward throws against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, fostering speculation that he might be injured or have a case of the "yips."

True to form, Utley never rationalized or made excuses. He set a major league record by reaching base in 27 straight postseason games and is slugging 1.222 against the Yankees despite an 0-for-9 mini-funk earlier in the series. Utley homered twice off CC Sabathia to lead Philadelphia to a 6-1 victory in the Series opener, and he drove 94 mph fastballs from Burnett and Coke into the seats Monday night.

"He's got such a short swing," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's so short to the ball."

And long on toughness, skill and desire. Utley's teammates rave about his willingness to play through pain as well as his exhaustive preparation in the video room, the batting cage and around the second-base bag. Utley works so hard, Durbin said, the other Phillies feel driven to do the same because they don't want to run the risk of disappointing him.

The less Utley speaks, the more influence he exerts. It's almost as if his fellow Phillies come to work each day with the mindset, "What would Chase do?"

"There are guys who talk just to talk," Jayson Werth said. "Then you hear stories about a guy like Andre Dawson. He was a real quiet player, didn't say much, but when he talked, everyone shut up and listened. Chase has that in him, too. When he says something, everybody stands at attention."

After his two-homer effort Monday, Utley entered the interview room with Lee and quietly and succinctly dissected the night's events. Some people close to him say Utley's reticence to act the part of "star" is rooted more in shyness than an antipathy toward the media. Whatever the reason, Utley admits that he could do without the cameras and the microphones.

"It's not my favorite part," Utley said. "My favorite part is playing the game, but it obviously comes with the territory. You kind of learn how to deal with it as you grow."

Just as Utley's early three-run shot off Burnett sent a surge through the Citizens Bank Park stands in Game 5, he'll be looking to quiet a hostile crowd in the Bronx in Game 6. Any plaudits or attention that ensue are purely incidental.

"Chase could care less about being a World Series hero just as long as he's on a World Series championship team," Phillies reliever Scott Eyre said. "I don't think he gives a crud about personal accolades. If we win Games 6 and 7, you might see him happy and excited. That's about the only time."

The Phillies are scheduled to arrive in New York by train late Tuesday afternoon as the series shifts back to Yankee Stadium, but there's no doubt who's driving the bus. If Utley's teammates are prepared to follow, he's perfectly willing to lead.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer