PHILADELPHIA — With one swing of the bat, Chase Utley made his triumphant return to the Phillies lineup.
Utley, working a 2-2 count on Pirates starter James McDonald, crushed one of his patented short-swing line drive homers well into the stands in right-center field in his first at-bat of the season.
“I was excited to be out there,” Utley, who went 3-for-5 on the night, said after the game. “It’s been a long road to get to this point. I had a lot of emotions and a lot of adrenaline, and the crowd definitely helped that.”
Utley was greeted with a loud ovation when his iconic walk-up song, Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” played on the sound system. The ovation was even louder when he sprinted around the bases.
There were concerns about Utley’s power, especially because it was his knees that had kept him out of the lineup since last October. He quieted any doubts with his solo homer in the 1st and in his 2nd at-bat when he drove a pitch that was caught at the warning track to dead-center, the deepest part of the park.
Utley’s legs also felt fine to run on. Utley’s second hit of the game came in the 6th inning, an infield single which sparked a two-run rally to cut the Pirates lead to 8-4.
He also singled in the seventh inning when the Phillies scored three runs to make it 8-7, the closest they came to coming back in their 11-7 loss.
In Todd Zolecki’s gamer, he inserted a fantastic quote from Utley, who said he used the doubt about his career to fuel his rehab.
“One hundred percent,” Utley said. “I think so. If anybody knows me, I think they know what kind of guy I am. I’ve put a lot of work into this. Obviously it’s a frustrating situation. I never wanted to be in this situation in the first place. But I had to battle through it. I feel like I’ve done a good job so far and hopefully I can continue that.”
Last season, it took Utley nearly a month to finally get some of his mechanics back when he missed time with a knee injury. Even when he was “back,” he still wasn’t 100 percent and felt that he had rushed in his return.
Utley and the Phillies didn’t want to make that same mistake this season, seeing a handful of specialists, privately rehabbing in Arizona and in Philadelphia, and in Clearwater before he used up only half of the allotted 20 days of official rehab.
With a three-hit game, Utley showed off his power, legs and even his range defensively. It’s a small sample size but it definitely breathed a bit of fresh air in the team and fan base.
Last night’s loss was due to the bullpen, which had to pitch the entire game. But the team could be sparked by Utley’s presence much like it was last season, and with there still plenty of time left, that’s a good thing.
At least Utley is remaining positive, which is what he said on Monday.
“I know there are some people that have given up on me,” Utley told reporters on Monday. “And there are some people that have given up on this team. But I’ll be the first one to tell you that I definitely haven’t given up on myself, and I know our guys have not given up on this year. We have strong-willed guys on this team.”
Utley is a leader and the young players will definitely look up to him. Time will only tell what kind of impact his return will have on the rest of this season.