May 242011

With Zeppelin’s Kashmir echoing around Citizens Bank Park, an electric crowd raised to its feet, celebrating one of the most loved players in Philadelphia sports history.  Finally, Chase Utley was back.  The standing ovation by the crowd of 45,841 — the largest regular season turnout ever at CBP — lasted even after the first pitch Utley saw. 

“I tried to tune it out, but it was a little too loud,” Utley said post-game regarding the moment.  “I’ll take that any time. The crowd was outstanding, as usual.”

For Utley, that’s damn near emotional.  The game was obviously important to the Phillies second baseman, who was on the field early prior to the game. 

“You guys obviously know I enjoy playing and it’s both disappointing and frustrating being on the sidelines and not being able to help,” he said, per  The fact that he actually spoke to reporters pre-game, an extreme rarity, is a testament to the importance of the game to the returning star.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was especially happy.

“We’ve missed Chase since Day 1,” manager Charlie Manuel said before the game. “It’s tremendous to have him back.”

With the energy of Utley’s return likely acting as a slumpbuster, the Phillies offense finally woke up.  The Phils bats broke out of their historically awful ineptitude, giving the good guys a 10-3 win over the visiting Cincinnati Reds.  Ironically, Utley himself went 0-5.  He was the only starter without a hit, though no one cares about that at the moment.  He’s back, and hopefully his balky right knee is healed enough to allow him to play every day.  The fight against patellar tendonitis will likely last all through the season, but as long as its manageable Utley should be back full time.

Utley was able to make it through his 16-day rehab stint in Florida with no issues, which is a good sign.

“No flare-ups,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. reported.  “He had some soreness, but we’re going to have to deal with that.”

So while Utley may have went hitless in that first at-bat, his teammates immediately picked him up.  Hitting third in Utley’s former spot, Placido Polanco drilled a two-run shot down the left field line to give the Phillies an early 2-0 lead. 

The Phils would go on to score seven runs in the third inning, chasing Reds starter Bronson Arroyo (check out the “Pitchers the Phillies knocked out before five innings” tracking thread on the PSC Phillies message board).  After Ibanez singled in another run and Domonic Brown lined out, John Mayberry Jr smacked an RBI singled, followed by Cole Hamels with one of his own.  Shortstop Jimmy Rollins topped it off with a three-run blast, putting the Phillies ahead 9-0.

On the mound, Hamels was good enough, allowing three runs and five hits in six innings.  It wasn’t quite as dominant an effort as the last time he faced the Reads, when he tossed a five-hit shutout to complete a sweep in last year’s divisional playoff series.  Lifetime Hamels is 8-0 with an 1.23 ERA against the Cincinnati.

So with Utley back, the Phils offense will hopefully start to catch up to the starting pitching.  If that happens, the National League should be very afraid.  And really, so should the American League, because one of them will be playing the Phillies come October.

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