Ryan Howard on Chase Utley's epic return: 'Something bigger than a game tonight'

Ryan Howard on Chase Utley's epic return: 'Something bigger than a game tonight'


Chase Utley had walked to the plate at Citizens Bank Park 3,297 times in his career prior to Tuesday night, and rarely, if ever, did he express any outward emotion. That's just not in his DNA. Utley has always been a calm, collected player with almost intimidating stoicism. 

He'd walked to the plate in South Philly with Led Zeppelin's Kashmir playing nearly 3,300 times — during pennant pushes, elimination games and World Series — but when that same song played just after 7 p.m. Tuesday, the vibe was much different than it's ever been. For the first time, Utley was a visitor, batting in the top half of the inning and facing the team with which he spent 13 seasons. 

After receiving a two-minute standing ovation and tipping his helmet multiple times to the fans (watch introduction here), Utley struck out looking at a Vince Velasquez fastball. The fans booed. They were booing their own pitcher striking out the opposing leadoff hitter. 

Everyone expected the series opener, Utley's first game back in Philadelphia since he was traded to the Dodgers last August, to be surreal. But the uniqueness of the situation didn't really set in until seeing the fan reaction to his at-bats.

That first-inning strikeout "was probably one of the most nervous at-bats I've ever had at any level," Utley said. He referred to the tribute as "completely overwhelming" and was glad to get it out of the way.

"There's no doubt there's a little extra adrenaline that's flowing," Utley said. "Adrenaline can be your friend at times. After that first at-bat I was able to calm down a little bit and there you have it."

There you have it indeed. After striking out and flying out against Velasquez, Utley launched a 427-foot home run to right field in the fifth inning to put the Dodgers up two runs. The next inning, L.A. batted around, with Utley walking to begin the rally and hitting a grand slam to cap it in a 15-5 Dodgers' win (see Instant Replay).

Of course Utley homered twice in his long-awaited return to Philly (see story). He's a guy who has made a 14-year career out of delivering big hits in dramatic moments. The walk-off single in August of 2007 to complete the sweep over the Mets. The first-inning home run in Game 1 of the 2008 World Series. The two homers in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series. The moonshot to right field in San Francisco in 2009, two pitches after Jonathan Sanchez threw a fastball at his head. The first-inning home run in his first game back in 2012 after missing 75 with a knee injury.

It was almost expected that Utley would thrive under these strange conditions.

The fans were ecstatic to see Utley succeed even if it was in Dodger Blue. Utley received standing ovations and gave curtain calls after both home runs. For many in attendance, that will be the first and only time they ever see a visiting player coerced into giving a curtain call (see sights and sounds from the night).

"I think it was incredible," longtime teammate Ryan Howard said of the fan reaction. "I thought it was very classy by the fans. ... I think it just goes to show you can change the uniform but he's always going to be a Phillie at heart. And I think he's always going to be a Phillie to everyone here. I thought it was great, it was awesome for the fans to give him a curtain call again. It shows what he was able to do here and the impact he had on the fans."

Some of Utley's Dodgers teammates tried to hype up his return. Some didn't. Utley himself, in typical Chase Utley fashion, "tried to downplay it as much as possible." But he admitted "it's something I've been looking forward to for a long time."

"I should be thanking them," Utley said of the fans. "They motivated us, they pushed us in the right direction, and I'm a true believer that the fans made us better players individually and gave us a chance to win on a daily basis. The true thank you should be to them."

The lovefest between Utley and the 28,118 in attendance almost made the actual game an afterthought. There wasn't much concern over how Velasquez responded after last week's shellacking. Few were focused on the home runs by Cameron Rupp or Cesar Hernandez or frustrated to see Hernandez thrown out on the bases again. How many people will remember Elvis Araujo forcing in three runs with a bases-loaded hit by pitch and two walks?

"As players, we try to just continue to play the game as the game's supposed to be played. But I think it was something bigger tonight," Howard said. "I definitely think it was something bigger than a game tonight. For Chase to come back and do what he did tonight — hopefully he's done doing that — but that's just the kind of player he is and the kind of guy he is."

Howard did a little something, too. He hit a 422-foot blast into the Dodgers' bullpen in the bottom of the seventh for his 18th home run of the season and sixth since the All-Star break. Howard is red-hot, hitting .358 in the second half with 10 extra-base hits and 15 RBIs in 19 games.

Usually, when Howard and Utley homer in the same game, the Phillies win. Times have changed.

"It's crazy, man. I'm out there, we're trying to beat him but it's also tough too because I played so many years alongside him and always want to see him do well," Howard said. "I don't think you can script it any better for him."

Utley, 20 minutes later and in a different room, echoed the same sentiment.

"Any time Ryan hits a home run — obviously it was against us so it was bittersweet — but I'm definitely happy when Ryan's successful," Utley said. ... "I think there's some exceptions to be made. I talked to Ryan a little bit before the game, I talked to him when I was on first base. Any time I'm around him I'm gonna talk to him for sure. He's one of my better friends, and I'm happy that he's playing well right now."

Even someone like Velasquez, who isn't too familiar with Utley, understood the magnitude of what went down Tuesday night. To his credit, Velasquez retired Utley the first two times and kept the Dodgers in check through four innings. He unraveled in the fifth and sixth, but still feels grateful to have pitched in that environment.

"It's a good experience, it feels good to be a part of that," Velasquez said. "I don't really know the guy much myself, but to have an ovation like that is incredible.

"I understand, he's a legend here."

That he is. And on Tuesday night, the legend of Chase Utley, primetime performer, only grew.

MLB Playoffs: Justin Turner hits walk-off HR to give Dodgers 2-0 lead over Cubs

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MLB Playoffs: Justin Turner hits walk-off HR to give Dodgers 2-0 lead over Cubs


LOS ANGELES -- Justin Turner hit a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

The red-bearded slugger connected on the 29th anniversary of the Dodgers' last game-ending postseason homer: Kirk Gibson's famous pinch-hit drive to beat Oakland in the 1988 World Series opener.

"One of my earliest baseball memories, I was 4 years old at my grandma's house watching that game in `88 and seeing Gibby hit that homer," a smiling Turner said. "So yeah, it feels pretty cool. I thought about doing the fist pump around the bases, but we'll wait until we get to the World Series for that, hopefully."

Turner drove in every run for Los Angeles, going the other way for a tying single in the fifth before sending a long shot to center field off John Lackey in the ninth. A fan wearing a blue Dodgers jersey reached over a railing to catch the ball on the fly.

Turner's second homer of the postseason ended another dramatic night for the Dodgers, who remained unbeaten in these playoffs and moved within two wins of their first World Series appearance since 1988.

"It's very cool, and J.T., we were talking about it in there after the game," manager Dave Roberts said. "Twenty-nine years to the day. It was special. Our guys feel it."

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Midseason acquisition Yu Darvish starts for the Dodgers against Kyle Hendricks.

Yasiel Puig drew his third walk of the game leading off the ninth, and Charlie Culberson bunted him to second. After losing pitcher Brian Duensing struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer, Chicago manager Joe Maddon went to the bullpen for the 38-year-old Lackey, who pitched on consecutive days for the first time in his 15-year career.

Lackey got the call over All-Star closer Wade Davis, and the veteran starter walked Chris Taylor on six tense pitches.

Turner stepped up and ended it with his fourth career playoff homer. He's been at his best in October, batting .377 with 22 RBIs in the postseason.

"We've been doing it all year long," Turner said. "We're never out of a game. As long as we have outs left, we're going to keep fighting."

Completing the poetry of the moment, a fan in a Chase Utley jersey in the center-field bleachers caught the ball in his glove.

Addison Russell homered in the fifth for the Cubs, who are down early in this rematch of the 2016 NLCS. Chicago won that series in six games and went on to its first World Series championship since 1908, while the Dodgers have been absent from the Fall Classic since 1988.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen got the victory with a hitless ninth despite hitting Anthony Rizzo on the hand with a one-out pitch. That ended the Los Angeles bullpen's impressive streak of 22 straight Cubs retired to begin the NLCS, but the Dodgers have thrown eight hitless and scoreless innings of relief in the NLCS.

After a collective offensive effort drove the Dodgers to a 5-2 win in Game 1, Turner did it all in Game 2. He has 10 RBIs in the Dodgers' five postseason games, getting five in the playoff opener against Arizona.

Jon Lester yielded three hits and five walks while failing to get out of the fifth inning in the shortest start of his long postseason career, but the Dodgers couldn't take advantage of a rare shaky night by the Cubs' star left-hander.

Rich Hill struck out eight in five more impressive innings for the Dodgers, but he was pulled for pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson in the fifth in a debatable decision by Roberts.

Russell was off to a 4-for-22 start in the postseason with nine strikeouts before the slugging shortstop put a leadoff homer into the short porch in left field.

Turner evened it moments later by poking a single to right after a leadoff double by Culberson, the Dodgers' improbably successful replacement for injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager.

The Dodgers chased Lester with two outs in the fifth, but reliever Carl Edwards Jr. came through after several recent postseason struggles, striking out pinch-hitter Chase Utley and then pitching a strong sixth.

Lester was the co-MVP of last season's NLCS, winning Game 5 at Dodger Stadium and yielding two runs over 13 innings in the series. He had nothing near the same success against the Dodgers' revamped lineup in this one, issuing four walks in the first four innings and repeatedly escaping jams.

Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward held up Turner in the third when it appeared he could have scored from first on Cody Bellinger's double to the gap.

Javier Baez, the other co-MVP of last season's NLCS for Chicago, got to third base in the third with one out but also was stranded.

Up next
Cubs: Hendricks dominated Chicago's playoff opener with seven scoreless innings against the Nationals, but yielded four runs in four innings during the team's wild Game 5 victory in Washington. He is starting on normal rest.

Dodgers: Darvish was outstanding in Game 3 against the Diamondbacks, earning his first career postseason victory with seven strikeouts over five innings of two-hit ball. He was acquired 

MLB Playoffs: Altuve's dash lifts Verlander, Astros over Yanks in Game 2

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MLB Playoffs: Altuve's dash lifts Verlander, Astros over Yanks in Game 2

HOUSTON — Jose Altuve raced home on Carlos Correa's double in the ninth inning, Justin Verlander struck out 13 in a complete game and the Houston Astros beat the New York Yankees 2-1 Saturday for a 2-0 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Correa also homered, but Houston needed a daring dash from Altuve to get Verlander a win. The 5-foot-6 AL MVP front-runner reached with a one-out single against closer Aroldis Chapman , then sprinted around from first base on Correa's shot to right-center field, sliding past catcher Gary Sanchez as he misplayed a short-hop. Altuve had two more hits and is 13 for 23 (.565) this postseason.

Verlander pitched another gem for the Astros, setting a postseason career best for strikeouts and allowing five hits in his second career complete game in the postseason. He threw a season-high 124 pitches and retired baby Bronx Bombers Aaron Judge, Sanchez and Greg Bird in the top of the ninth.

In the bottom of the inning, Judge picked up Correa's hit in right field and threw toward second base. Shortstop Didi Gregorius fielded there, and his throw beat Altuve to the plate by a few steps. But Sanchez bobbled the one-hop as Altuve slid by, and the Astros mobbed Correa in shallow center field. Altuve pointed toward Correa and his teammates from behind the plate (see full recap).

Puig, Taylor power Dodgers past Cubs in NLCS Game 1
LOS ANGELES -- Chris Taylor hit a tiebreaking homer in the sixth inning, Yasiel Puig added a homer and an RBI double to his dynamite postseason, and the Los Angeles Dodgers overcame a short start by Clayton Kershaw for a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night in the NL Championship Series opener.

Charlie Culberson doubled, drove in the tying run and scored another while replacing injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager for the resourceful Dodgers, who improved to 4-0 in this postseason.

With another collective offensive effort and four innings of perfect relief pitching, Los Angeles calmly overcame an early two-run deficit and took the first game of this rematch of the 2016 NLCS, won in six games by Chicago on the way to its first World Series championship in 108 years.

Game 2 is Sunday, with Rich Hill starting at home against Chicago's Jon Lester (see full recap).