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August 16, 2016

A look at Chase Utley's greatest Philadelphia moments

Back in late May, when Chase Utley was back playing on the East Coast for the first time in 2016, he was not treated well. There were a lot of boos, and those boos were probably the kindest things Utley heard during Memorial Day weekend.

Of course, that East Coast trip happened to be in New York, a place he’s tormented throughout his 14-year big league career, and not Philadelphia. Utley has had so much fun playing in New York that you could honestly make a separate list of his greatest moments in four different ballparks there, from the introductions at the 2008 Home Run Derby, the starring role in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series, the aforementioned Memorial Day weekend in Flushing this year, and so on.

You don’t put together a six-time All-Star career (Hall of Fame career?) without a flurry of highlights in many a city, both National League and American League alike. But obviously, the vast majority of Utley’s highlights came in the city he spent the most time in during that career, the city he returns to tonight for what should bring the loudest ovation for any player (home or visiting) in 2016.

Back in May, I asked Utley if he expected something similar to the ovation his long-time double play partner received last August. But Utley wasn’t at Citizens Bank Park that night: he was on a rehab assignment with Double-A Reading, two weeks before he would be on his way to joining Jimmy Rollins with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the rest of 2015.

Utley homered against his old team last week, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he does something similarly dramatic tonight that would make it onto the following list of Utley’s all-time best moments in Philadelphia. (Note the “in Philadelphia” part.)

Granted there have been many, so it’s likely something will be left out, like this.

Welcome to Philadelphia

Chase Utley is one of just two active major league players who played at Veterans Stadium as a Philadelphia Phillie. Can you name the other?

In his major league debut, Utley, pinch hitting for Joe Roa, was struck out by Jeff Suppan. Twenty days later, Utley made his first big league hit a memorable one.

Utley turned a 2-0 lead to a 6-0 lead with one swing of the bat off of Colorado’s Aaron Cook.

Has anyone, anywhere ran faster around the bases on a home run since? Also, who’s that little guy wearing Ryan Howard’s eventual No.6 who congratulates Utley before the rookie reaches the dugout? That’s Jimmy Rollins, taking a year break from his iconic No.11. 

Also, the answer to the earlier trivia question: Ryan Madson is the only other active player to have played with the Phillies at Veterans Stadium. 

'The Man'

There’s not a whole lot to write here – the video (from a game in Atlanta in August of 2006 – 10 years ago!) tells you all you need to know.

Fun fact: “The Man” moment came just five days after Utley saw his 35-game hitting streak snapped at Shea Stadium.

My favorite part of this video (well, other than the most obvious, Harry Kalas's voice, and maybe after seeing Shane Victorino with hair, too): you can see the actual moment Charlie Manuel decided that Chase Utley is his favorite baseball player of all time. It’s at the 1:22 mark. Enjoy.

Walk-off completes sweep

If you want to pinpoint the single moment when the collapse of the 2007 New York Mets began, look no further.

Sure the deficit in the National League East would grow again for the Phillies shortly after this series, but the Mets became very vulnerable when they came to Philadelphia for a four-game series in the final week of August of 2007 and were swept in four games, including two walk-off defeats and another one-run loss.

Utley’s game-winning hit comes at the 8:42 mark.

Post-video observation: you have to love Gary Matthews continuing with long-winded questions while Utley painfully removes shaving cream from his eyes. Continued success, Sarge. 

Oh, and how about the way Utley celebrated? You didn't see that often during his career.

NLCS home run

Winning the first game of any postseason series is important and it became the way of the Phillies in October of 2008. They took momentum and ran with it, against the Brewers, Dodgers, and Rays. Utley helped give his team that edge with home runs in two of those Game 1s, including on Oct. 9 at Citizens Bank Park.

The Dodgers had scored a pair of runs off Cole Hamels, taking a 2-0 lead into the sixth inning. With one swing off Derek Lowe, Utley made that deficit disappear.

It was the first of 10 postseason home runs for Utley. On this night, Pat Burrell would follow with a home run of his own two batters later and the Phillies would hold on for a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the 2008 NLCS.

The Throw

When people ask what it is that made Chase Utley so popular in Philadelphia, more beloved that Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, and Jimmy Rollins, you could probably reply by showing them two of these highlights: “The Man” play from 2006 (above) and this, from the night the Phillies clinched the franchise’s second World Series.

It wasn’t always about the clutch hits and impactful home runs with Utley. It was the baseball acumen that was unmatched. Utley made up for the fact that he wasn’t Tim Raines on the base paths or Roberto Alomar in the field by being the most prepared player on the field and the most in-tune with the goings on of the game. It wasn’t just that he avoided making mental mistakes, it was that he did things like this regularly, and when it was on the national stage, everyone took notice (for good reason).

The Speech

Two days after making that play, Chase Utley, never one to say a whole lot throughout his career, a player who let his actions on the field do his talking for him, stood behind a microphone on the field at Citizens Bank Park, following a championship parade down Broad Street, and said five words that summed up the feelings of the more than a million fans tuned in from their seats, or tailgates outside, or couches across the Delaware Valley.

WARNING: the following video includes language that may not be suitable for everyone. Unless you’ve watched Goodfellas already. Then you’re OK.

It seemed impossible that Chase Utley could increase his popularity. And then he did just that on Halloween afternoon in 2008.

World Series, 2009

People seem to remember Cliff Lee more, perhaps because it was Lee’s only extended postseason run with the Phillies. And it surely was a memorable one of the left-hander.

But you could surely make the argument that Utley deserved the 2009 World Series MVP, even with his team on the losing end of the series against the New York Yankees. Utley tied Reggie Jackson’s all-time World Series record by hitting five home runs in the series.

Again, this list is “in Philadelphia," so scroll to the :58 mark of the video, when the Phillies were seven outs from falling behind 3-1 to the Yankees in the series. Utley brought them within a run, Pedro Feliz would tie the game and inning later … before the Phils lost in the ninth inning.

But keep watching. The very next night, with the Phillies trailing 1-0 in the opening inning of an elimination game, Utley rips a three-run home run in his first at-bat. And then, why not, he gives another Phillies fan a souvenir later in the game, too.

The Return

It’s easy to forget this, since it wasn’t in the postseason and it came during the first year of the Phillies downfall, but, at the time, the Phillies were coming off a 102-win season. And it was the second straight season that Utley had missed the majority of the first half with a chronic knee injury.

On June 27, 2012, after missing the team’s first 76 games of the season, Utley returned to the Phillies lineup. The ovation should give you an idea of what’s to come tonight. 

Oh, and then he homered five pitches later. Really.

Note: YouTube didn't allow me to include the version of this with the welcoming ovation. Maybe this one works?

The Exit

It was almost a year ago that Chase Utley exited Citizens Bank Park for the final time in a Phillies uniform. On August 19, 2015, the Phillies sent Utley to the Dodgers for infielder/outfielder Darnell Sweeney and right-hander John Richy.

The trade wasn’t official until just after the game, but everyone knew it was going down. Including Utley.

Since it wasn’t official, the Phillies could not give Utley the proper send-off that they wanted to give him. But Utley was aware, and he acknowledged the South Philly faithful just before he ducked into the home dugout for the final time in red pinstripes.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21