When I started re-watching the May 23 game against the Cincinnati Reds (AKA Return of the King), I was bowled over by the Chase Utley montage they showed at the beginning. Clips of notable Utley moments, including his first major league home run (a grand slam in his first game as a starter), and the now famous Harry Kalas quote "Chase Utley, you are the man!" According to the montage, he is apparently responsible for "RETURNING PHILADELPHIA TO OCTOBER", and "NOW HE'S BACK."
Was his return a tad...over-hyped? Was the reaction to his return a little over the top? I'll be the first person to say that I'm not the best person to ask. I love Chase Utley. He's my favorite player. So my answer to the questions I just posed? NO. His return, and that little video with the overblown guitar and rock orchestra, were both perfectly in line with how many Phillies fans feel about Utley. The Utley interview that CSN Philly showed before the game had him smiling and laughing and looking excited to play baseball. I love seeing him like that. He hates missing time and watching the guys play and have fun and win without him! He has no patience for the weaknesses of his fragile, human body! He is Spider-man! A baseball-playing Spider-man!
I'm sorry, where was I?
Oh yes, the game. The point of this game being on the list is that Chase Utley was playing in it, and for the first time in 2011. I was hoping he'd break out right there and make a statement with his bat, that statement being "I'm back, so stop worrying." At the time, the Phillies were going through a "downish" period offensively, and people were starting to remember how painful 2010's offensive woes were. A boost was sorely needed, if only to calm a jittery fan base, and Chase Utley was looked at as that boost.
During his first at-bat, the roar that went up from the crowd was insane. It gave me goosebumps even through my small computer screen. He answered the crowd by flying out. It was unrealistic to expect Utley to go to town at the plate in his first game back. And he went 0-for-5. But it really wasn't about his performance. It was more about him being there.
The very presence of Chase Utley helped the offense score 10 runs, and led Cole Hamels to allow only three runs on five hits. Ok, so maybe that's not totally true. Some of it was Bronson Arroyo and his ridiculous home run rate. (Not to mention his ridiculous Radio City Rockette leg kick.) But it didn't matter. The game symbolized a return to normal. After missing so many games in 2010 and 2011, I was hopeful that Utley could put all that behind him and get back to being awesome. I think most people would have happily settled for consistently healthy.
Hamels was sharp with the exception of the fourth inning -- a three-run homer hit by Jay Bruce. The offense gave him a nice cushion, though, scoring two runs in the first (Placido Polanco jacked a two-run homer -- yes, the same Placido Polanco who is on the Phillies, there's only one), seven in the third (five singles and a Rollins homer), and one in the fourth (a home run hit by Raul Ibanez). Domonic Brown notched his first hit of 2011 (in the bigs, at least), and I tried not to be irrationally angry at how the Phillies organization has handled him.
The Phillies won 10-3. Utley was back and the Phillies broke out of their short offensive slump. Whether it was the presence of Utley or the intense sucking of Arroyo (take a wild guess), this game started the Phillies on a roll that wouldn't slow down until early fall.
-- Bronson Arroyo is nightmarishly bad, you guys.
-- Of the seven runs that crossed the plate in the third inning, six of them scored with two outs.
-- In that seven-run third, Chase Utley made the first out...and then he made the last out. Oof.
-- This game marked the end of a nine game streak in which the Phillies scored three runs or less. They went 3-6 over that stretch, and lost more than two games in a row for the first time all season. (Their losing streak ended at four.)
-- This brief "slump" is pretty laughable in retrospect. It barely lasted two weeks. At the time I can remember having some pretty intense flashbacks of the offensively putrid periods of the 2010 season. The Phillies would encounter a little more trouble (and their second four game losing streak) at the beginning of June. That would be the last time they'd lose two games in a row until July 28. Then they went (nearly) another month without losing two games in a row.
-- Regrettable Chris Wheeler Quote of the Game: Regarding Bronson Arroyo, "He can pitch...he'll make it up as he goes along."