Chase Utley is back! Even better, he is healthy and looks like the All-Star player we have known him to be. Utley announced his return in his first at-bat of the year with a huge bang. His fairy tale comeback began with a monster home run to center on a 2-2 count amidst 45,000 fans cheering wildly.
The ballpark exploded with joy from the upper levels down to the dugout where teammates showered Utley with man-hugs, high fives and ear-to-ear grins. It appears the Chutley magic has returned!
As if that moment were not amazing enough, Carlos Ruiz made it even more special with another home run right after Utley’s and while the crowd was still celebrating the first one. This had to be sign of better things to come for the Phillies. For one inning, it felt as if the world was right again.
In honor of Utley’s amazing comeback, here is a montage of some of my favorite photos I have taken of him over the years:
Three cheers for Chase! And 3 hits as well; Utley went 3-for-5 in his first game of the season.
But the elation of the moment was soon squashed by the Phillies dreadful bullpen, which ruined the day. Short a starter because of the rain-out last weekend, the Phils were stuck with a bullpen game. Raul Valdes started and, in the 1st inning, things looked promising. But by the 2nd, things began to unravel quickly.
Valdes allowed a 3 run homer with 2 outs and the pitcher on deck. Joe Savery took over in the 3rd and managed one clean inning before things got much worse. He ended up with 5 runs allowed, two of which scored after Michael Schwimer took over with 2 outs in the 5th. Savery was sent back to the minors after the game.
But the drama did not end there. The Phillies actually mounted a comeback and cut the 8-2 deficit to 8-7 by the 7th inning. It looked like they might actually still have a shot to win, which along with Utley’s return, would have been a massive boost for this team.
But the bullpen even managed to ruin that possibility. That’s right…Chad Qualls strikes again. Only he hardly threw any strikes. Once he walked the first batter, it was clear that a large load of crap was about to hit the fan…again. Sure enough, Qualls gave up 3 runs, including a 2-run homer. That handed the Pirates an 11-7 win.
So we are left with three cheers for Chase and about three-hundred boo’s for the bullpen. If this pen sucked any worse, it would be a little league pen. Folks, this is BAD. If the Phillies do not find some better arms soon, it won’t matter how many 3-for-5 games Utley has. And I am pretty sure that Brian Sanches, called up in place of Savery, is not the answer.
Ryan Howard is starting a rehab assignment today, which should have him back with the team at least after the All-Star break. But again, the Phillies still need a more solidified bullpen if he is going to be able to make an impact.
The final game of this series begins early, at 1:05pm. Kyle Kendrick, who has been basically dreadful of late, is starting. Cross all your fingers and toes that he snaps out of whatever funk he is in so the Phillies can win this 4-game series!
UPDATE: Chad Qualls is outta here! The Phillies cut him today (“designated for assignment”) after many disasterous pitching efforts. Excuse me for a moment while I do the happy dance… Ok, I am back. Filling his spot will be lefty Jeremy Horst, a rookie aquired in the Wilson Valdez trade. I do not know much about him except he posted a 2.11 ERA in 26 games in Triple-A and he has to be better than Qualls. We shall see…
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Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography