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.
[ Watch video of the collision at home plate ]
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.
>> No letting up for Utley in Phillies’ latest loss [CSN]
Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.
A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.
The rest of the team included:
• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)
Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.
But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.
Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.
Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.
“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”
There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple.
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston.
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins come to mind.
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.”
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record.
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”