Chalk up this play under the “Reasons Chase Utley Is Still in Philadelphia” column. Tied 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh and standing on second base, Ryne Sandberg predictably sent Utley home on Kevin Frandsen’s single into right field. Like we’ve seen so many times before this season, the runner was destined to be gunned down at home plate.
But unlike so many who have been called out before him, Chase wasn’t going down easily. Midway into his slide it turned into something closer resembling a shoulder block, as Utley crashed into Dioner Navarro with the full force of his momentum. Somehow Navarro held on to the ball and applied the tag before the runner could touch the dish, despite the fact that the Cubs’ catcher couldn’t even leave the field under his own power.
Utley talked about the play after the game, via Jim Salisbury:
“Obviously, I wanted to be safe,” Utley said afterward. “I tried to knock the ball loose. I give him a lot of credit for hanging in there as long as he did and hanging on to the ball. That’s probably a big reason why they won the game. I definitely tip my hat to him.”
Replays showed that Utley might have been able to sneak his foot in had he slid, but “unfortunately, when you’re out there playing as fast as you can you don’t have replay,” Utley said. “The play happened so fast. I didn’t feel I had many options.”
Thankfully and somewhat surprisingly, initial reports are Navarro only suffered a bruise on the play. It looked much worse seeing as he had to be carted off the field. And for what it’s worth, the Cubs didn’t accuse Utley of doing anything dirty, admitting this kind of thing is just part of baseball.
That it is, and the contact aspect of baseball has always been one aspect of the game Utley has always been good at, never afraid of. Even at 34 he still plays the game the right way every day, on every play, unlike anybody I think I’ve ever seen before. Oh yeah, and he’s absolutely one of the top three or four second baseman overall in the Major Leagues right now, too.
Be sure to check out Salisbury’s piece on Utley and the Phils’ 5-2 loss to Chicago.