Short and sweet, Utley's home-run swing is defining the World Series
The Phils fell behind early before Chase Utley's first homer put them up 3-1
His second homer made it 7-2 and proved to be decisive after the Yanks rallied
Utley now has five homers for the Series, trying Reggie Jackson's 1977 record
PHILADELPHIA -- That swing is so quick. It's rattlesnake quick. Jai Alai quick. Shell game quick. That swing is so quick, it should make a cracking sound, like the tip of a whip. That Chase Utley swing.
He doesn't like to talk about it. He doesn't really like to talk about anything much, at least not to people not wearing Philadelphia Phillies uniforms. Really, what's there to say? That swing speaks for him. That swing is his life's work. That swing is more eloquent than any words he could come up with on the spot. You have a question? Ask the swing.
"First home run was a fastball, first pitch," he said in response to a question after Monday night's World Series game. "The second home run was a fastball, as well."
That's it. That's all he had to say, really. Fastball. Home run. Fastball. Home run. The Phillies came into Monday night's game trailing the New York Yankees three games to one and facing what most people considered a ridiculous task -- to win, they would have to beat the Yankees three straight times, twice in New York. It isn't impossible, no, but it has a brownstone in the same neighborhood as impossible.
Teams facing nearly impossible tasks often go down meekly. They don't want to go down meekly but people have a limited capacity to struggle against the inevitable. The Yankees scored a run in the top of the first inning as if to encourage the Phillies to just fold and make this whole thing easier on everyone.
And then, bottom of the first inning, Chase Utley came up, two men on. First pitch fastball, and he unleashed that swing -- that preposterously quick swing -- and he crushed a long home run to right off Yankees starter A.J. Burnett. At that instant seemingly everyone in Philadelphia started twirling a white towel. And the sound was enormous.
Later, with the Phillies up an uncomfortable 6-2 -- virtually any lead is uncomfortable against these Yankees and with that Philadelphia bullpen -- Utley saw a fastball from New York's Phil Coke. And again: that swing. He cranked that fastball into the seats too. And those white towels twirled again. That turned out to be the winning run after the Phillies bullpen melted down.
That was also Utley's fifth home run of this series -- that ties him with Reggie Jackson for the most home runs ever hit in a single World Series. Mr. October hit his five home runs in six games back in '77. Utley has hit his five in five games. So far.
When Monday's game ended -- and the Phillies 8-6 victory forced Game 6 Wednesday in New York -- people tried to get Utley to talk about how important those home runs were and how much his leadership means to his team and even to say a few words about himself. People tried to get him to talk about all that, but he gave the same short, colorless answers he tends to give. Hey, he'd already said what he wanted to say. Hadn't everyone seen that swing?
"He don't like for you to say a whole lot of things about him," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said ... and then he proceeded to say a whole lot of things about him:
"He's one of the most prepared, one of the most dedicated, he has the most passion and desire to play the game that I've ever been around. I used to say Kirby Puckett was my favorite player, and all those things I just said I used to say about Kirby Puckett, and I said Kirby Puckett was my favorite player. The only thing Kirby might have on Chase is he's more flamboyant, because he smiles a lot.
"Chase is a little bit different. He's quiet and he goes about his business in a real good way. But Chase Utley is one of the most ... I don't want to embarrass him or nothing like that but sometimes I tell our players, 'Just play with Chase.' Because if you play with Chase, you've got a chance to be a pretty good player."
Utley was not around when Charlie said all that ... and there is no doubt that he would not have been able to sit there and listen to all that. The people around Utley will tell you: It isn't exactly that he is overly modest or uncomfortable with his own brilliance as a player. It's more like: All that other stuff just confuses things. Utley doesn't like confusion. He doesn't care for nuance. When the Phillies won the World Series last year, he spoke at the celebration and this is what he said into the microphone for everyone to hear: "World Champions! World (Bleeping) Champions!"
He likes playing baseball. He likes winning games. He likes winning World Series. Why does it have to be more involved than that? All the rest -- compliments, controversy, probing questions, psychological inquiries -- well he doesn't like anything at all that gets in the way.
You can see all of it in his swing, which over 30 years has been polished and shortened and sped up and shortened some more and polished again. There's no wasted energy in that swing. There are no extras, no gadgets, no embellishments. It is a baseball swing reduced to its core. Eric Clapton famously said that music can be reduced to one note, if that note is played with the right kind of sincerity. That's Chase Utley's swing.
It is his masterpiece, his Great American Novel, his Sistine Chapel, his Schindler's List. There are other great swings in baseball, of course. There's Albert Pujols swing -- wide base, head statue-still, everything in perfect balance. There's Joe Mauer's swing -- step to the ball, head locked in place, big finish follow-through with the legs wide and the bat behind him.
But no one in baseball unleashes a swing that is so quick. He stands with his feet closer together than many, somewhat upright, head looking for the ball out front. And then -- lash! -- the swing happens. The speed of it never fails to surprise. "He's got such a short swing," Yankees manager Joe Girardi says in wonder, and then, "He's so short to the ball." And later: "He's very short to the ball."
Utley is one of those players who has become famous for not being famous enough. Just about every year, he gives you 40 doubles, 30 homers, 100 runs, 100 RBIs and he leads the league in getting hit by pitch. This year he stole 23 bases without getting caught (and he stole another base on Monday). He plays great defense.
Still, it's that Utley swing that is defining this World Series. The Yankees now have to go with two starting pitchers on three days' rest, and there's a whiff of doubt floating around New York. The Phillies have pitching problems of their own, of course, and things still point toward a Yankee championship. But that Utley swing will probably keep some people awake in Metropolis.
Already there is a lot of talk about how Chase Utley should win the MVP award even if the Phillies lose. Of course, he doesn't care for that talk. He doesn't care for any talk. Fastball. Home run. Utley apparently has no intention of letting the Phillies lose.
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