Sep 032010

The Phillies' Chase Utley

September 3 Philadelphia Daily News

“Shortly after the credits rolled, leaving the audience staring in stunned contemplation at the 4-hour epic they had just witnessed, Ben Francisco dressed quietly at his locker in preparation for the late-night flight back to Philadelphia. On a night when the stars took center stage, where the Chase Utleys and Ryan Howards and Jayson Werths of the world stole the show with their prodigious seventh-inning home runs, it was easy to forget the little pinch-hit at-bat that occurred with runners at the corners and one out in a tie ballgame. It was a nuanced performance in a supporting role, destined for both critical acclaim and mass-market anonymity.

“Just trying to keep it going,” Francisco said as he finished tucking his dress shirt into his slacks.

The Phillies beat the Rockies last night, 12-11, finishing a 6-1 road trip that cut their deficit behind the Braves in the NL East to two games. They did so after notching a nine-run seventh inning that wiped out a four-run deficit, then withstanding a four-run Rockies rally that ended with the tying run being forced out at third base for the final out of the ninth.

The stars were numerous. Utley hit an RBI single and a grand slam in the seventh to set a new career-high with five RBI in an inning. Werth tied the game at 7 with a solo shot. Howard provided the first big blast in the comeback with a two-run home run.

Still, it was Francisco who Charlie Manuel singled out after the game. The Phillies already had scored four runs in the seventh when the reserve outfielder stepped to the plate, and with one out and the ninth spot in the line-up at the plate, they would have been content if the rally ended there. They already had negated the two hanging changeups from Joe Blanton that led to four Rockies runs in the second, three on a homer by Chris Iannetta and another on a blast from Dexter Fowler. They already had endured several untimely bounces, including a sixth-inning run that Colorado manufactured by way of two bunts, an infield single, and an apparent pickoff at second base that was scuttled when Brian Schneider’s perfect throw popped out of Jimmy Rollins’ glove on the tag.

But Francisco wasn’t content. He looked for a fastball, got it on the first pitch, and slapped a single to rightfield that gave the Phillies an 8-7 lead and turned the line-up over. Three batters later, Utley hit his first grand slam since April 2006 (also at Coors Field), and the Phillies capped off their biggest inning since May 2 against the Mets, when they scored nine runs in the fourth inning against Johan Santana.

“It was huge,” said Howard, who hit his 25th home run of the season and his second in three games. “To come back in that situation and to tie the game, and then have ‘Benny Fresh’ come up and get that hit and put us up. The momentum was right there on our side.”

The Phillies (76-58), who start a three-game series against the Brewers at Citizens Bank Park tonight, return to Philadelphia following last night’s 1-day swing through Colorado for the make-up of a May 11 rainout. Sixteen of their next 22 games are at home, where they are 40-25 this season. The Braves start a three-game series at Florida tonight after losing to the Mets, 4-2, last night.”

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