There is a disconnect that happens in baseball from time to time. It is a team sport that celebrates the individual. The way to measure wins and loss and the essential point of the game is to score runs or drive in runs. And yet people measuring player’s individual value often ignore runs scored and RBI in the process.
A great individual accomplishment can sometimes be overshadowed or ignored because of the team’s performance. A case in point is Chase Utley, hardly an unknown player, but someone whose individual achievement in the 2009 World Series should have put him in the pantheon of greats. Instead, it has mainly been forgotten.
The Phillies were the defending World Champions in 2009. And despite some subpar performances from their pitchers, especially the once dominant and now explosive Brad Lidge, they won the NL East again. Then after dramatic if strange post season series against Colorado and Los Angeles, were back in the World Series.
They faced the Yankees, in the World Series for the first time since 2003. In Game 1 of the World Series, Chase Utley homered twice and mid season pick up Cliff Lee went the distance, giving the Phillies the early lead.
Then the Yankees won three straight wild games. Despite another homer by Utley in Game 4, the Phillies found themselves entering Game 5 with the season on the line.
Cliff Lee once again took the hill for Philadelphia. A. J. Burnett, coming off of surprise Game 2 win, started for New York.
An Alex Rodriguez double in the first game put Philadelphia in an early 1-0 hole. In the bottom of the first, Chase Utley took care of that. His no out, 3 run first inning homer gave the Phillies a 3-1 advantage. Now he had 4 homers over the first 5 games.
Utley walked to lead off the third, sparking a three run rally to chase Burnett. In the 7th Utley faced Yankee reliever Phil Coke.
On a 3-2 pitch, Utley launched a ball into the right centerfield seats. Utley had matched the highest post season series home run total. Five in a single World Series had only been accomplished by Reggie Jackson. Utley’s feat should have become the stuff of legends.
The Phillies would hang on and win Game 5 as Ryan Madson, NOT Brad Lidge, finished the game up, 8-6.
In Yankee Stadium for Game 6, Utley would go hitless. The one time that he reached base on a walk, he was driven home by Ryan Howard’s homer. The Yankees would go on to win the game, 7-3 and take the series in 6.
In the end, Utley’s posted an OPS of 1.448 in the World Series with his record tying 5 homers. But nobody remembers great performances when the team loses. Instead of being a great moment in World Series history, Utley’s home run barrage has become a foot note.
Utley has become more famous for breaking Ruben Tejada’s leg in the 2015 Division Series than any World Series heroism. But this author recognizes his greatness. That’s why I am declaring him the Sully Baseball Unsung Hero of November 2.