When the ninth inning of the Philadelphia Phillies‘ Opening Day contest against their NL East rivals, the Atlanta Braves came around, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley was 3-for-4 and just a double short of what would have been his first ever cycle.
His final at-bat, a pop up to Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, gave Utley a final line of 3-for-5 with three RBIs, two runs scored and his 200th career home run.
On an individual level, it was a great night for Utley.
As it is though, baseball is not an individual sport and with offensive struggles from the rest of the lineup, the team was unable to overcome a poor pitching performance from starter Cole Hamels and lost the game by a score of 7-5.
While Ben Revere, Michael Young and even Domonic Brown did some positive things on the night, the most notable stats were Utley’s as not only did he outperform the entire rest of the Phillies’ lineup, but did so looking to be at around 100 percent health for the first time in years.
Before the season began, there were numerous questions surrounding Utley’s health and whispers about a possible decline in production. After all, he missed approximately half of the 2012 season and when he was playing, he seemed to be doing so still hampered by his chronic knee problems.
Now, even though it is after just one game, Utley leads the Phillies in almost all offensive categories. He has eight total bases, which is the same amount as the entire rest of the team.
While again, it is just a one game sample, early signs point to Utley playing a huge role in the Phillies 2013 season. The team may once again need to count on their All-Star slugger who, as it turns out, may not quite be in the twilight of his career just yet.
Unfortunately, as was shown in the loss, Utley’s production alone will not be enough.
On the night, the two most hyped-up spring performers, Howard and Brown, went a combined 1-for-8 with just one RBI and five left on base. Both came to the plate with chances to tie or crack open the game, but neither was able to come through.
No, on the night, it was just Utley who came up clutch, finishing with zero runners left on base compared to the 12 left by the rest of the team. Without Utley’s two runs and three RBIs, the game would have been considered a blowout.
It wasn’t and as such, Utley’s importance to this team cannot be understated. While he may not have an All-Star or MVP year, the Phillies are going to need Utley and maybe more than they originally thought.