Utley goes deep, helps Phillies beat Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - October 23, 2008 Utley's two-run homer in the first inning got Philadelphia started in its first appearance in the World Series since 1993, and Cole Hamels pitched the Phillies to a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 Wednesday night.

Utley finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs, two stolen bases and an intentional walk. Good thing for the NL champions their three-time All-Star second baseman came here swinging because Ryan Howard and the rest of the big hitters had their share of problems.

The Phillies were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, though Carlos Ruiz had an RBI groundout in the fourth.

"Our goal was to try to score some runs early, trying to take the crowd out of it," Utley said. "I thought we did a good job."

Utley, who hit a career-best 33 homers in the regular season, became the 34th player to go deep in his first Series at-bat. Dustin Pedroia and Bobby Kielty did it last year for Boston against Colorado.

With the Rays employing an extreme shift against the left-handed hitting Utley, he simply tried to reach base against hard-throwing lefty Scott Kazmir. Utley bunted the first pitch, fouling it down the third-base line. He checked on a close 1-2 pitch, before ripping Kazmir's next offering into the right-field seats to put the Phillies ahead 2-0.

"I guess it turned out pretty well," Utley said. "The third baseman was playing shortstop. I figured with a guy on first and one out, I'd try to create something at that point. It was foul, but it ended up to turn out pretty good for us."

How'd Utley celebrate his second postseason homer? He put his head down and jogged quickly around the bases, just like he does every time he goes deep. No fist-pumping, hand-gesturing or anything else from this old-school baseball rat.

"I try to treat every day the same, whether it's the first day of spring training or today," Utley said.

Utley hit .277 with 13 homers against lefties in the regular season. But Kazmir allowed only one homer to a left-handed hitter in 131 at-bats. Boston slugger David Ortiz connected off him on Sept. 15.

"That fastball to Utley, it was my one bad pitch of the night," Kazmir said.

Philadelphia's offense, inconsistent throughout the season, couldn't do much else the rest of the game.

Howard was 0-for-4, striking out three times, including twice with a runner on third and one out. Jimmy Rollins was 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and flied into a double play with the bases loaded in the second. Pat Burrell went 0-for-3.

Overall, Utley hit .292 and had 104 RBIs this season, doing most of his damage before the All-Star break. A nagging hip injury may be the reason Utley's production dropped in the second half - he had 12 homers in the last 103 games - but he never made excuses or asked out of the lineup.

His sweet swing looks just fine now.

Utley got hot in the NLCS against Los Angeles, hitting .353 (6-for-17) with a homer and three RBIs against in the five-game series. He's now reached safely in 12 straight postseason games. Before that series, Utley had been 4-for-26 (.154) in his postseason career.

Seeking their second World Series title in 126 years - the first was in 1980 - and Philadelphia's first championship since the 76ers won the NBA title 25 years ago, the Phillies didn't play like a team with the weight of a championship-starved city on its shoulders.

With manager Charlie Manuel cracking jokes and providing rubber ducks in every player's locker as a prop to remind them to stay loose, the Phillies looked like the October regulars. They walked around before the game with an aura that they belonged on this stage.

This was no hostile environment on the road, either.

Plenty of red-clad fans came from nearby Clearwater, where the team has held its spring training since 1947, and from Philadelphia to support the Fightin' Phils. They gathered behind the Phillies dugout three hours before game time and whooped it up Philly-style. One fan held up a sign that read: "It's not Christmas yet, but get ready for some Cole in your stocking."

Another sign said: "You have the cowbell. We have the Liberty Bell."

Perhaps no one was cheering harder for the Phillies more than Mitch Williams, who surrendered Joe Carter's series-clinching homer when Philadelphia lost to Toronto in 1993.

Seated in the front row of the auxiliary press box in left field, "The Wild Thing" put his arm in the air, pumped his fist and cheered when Utley's shot cleared the wall. Williams now works as an analyst on local television in Philadelphia and also hosts a pre-game radio show called "The Wild Pitch."

Three more wins, and he's off the hook.

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