Utley homers but Pirates beat Phillies, 11-7

Posted: June 29, 2012

With his first crack of the bat this season, Chase Utley sent a wave of electricity through the Citizens Bank Park seats Wednesday night.

The Phillies tried to ride the emotion, but a comeback fell short, and that energy proved to be nothing more than helium.

The Phillies' bullpen provided the needle, and the Pirates popped the Utley Day party balloon. A half inning after the 33-year-old second baseman homered in his almost movie-scripted return, Pittsburgh took the lead with three runs and didn't look back, resisting a Phillies comeback to win, 11-7, in front of 44,057 fans searching for hope, life, some sort of change to their season - anything.

When public address announcer Dan Baker called Utley's name as part of the team's starting lineup, fans cheered. The noise returned when Utley approached the plate in the bottom of the first, and the volume rose to October levels when Utley sent a 2-2 curveball from James McDonald over the right-center-field fence for a solo homer.

From the dugout, Utley tipped his helmet to the fans he hasn't seen all season.

"I was excited to be out there," he said after the game. "It's been a long road to get to this point, a lot of emotions and a lot of adrenaline."

Carlos Ruiz followed with a similar result, sneaking a ball past the 374 sign plastered in yellow on the left-field wall for his 11th home run of the season. It was just the team's second set of back-to-back home runs this year.

The Phillies seized a 2-0 lead, and fans cranked the clock back. It felt like last year inside Citizens Bank Park, or the year before, or really any time during the team's five straight division championships. Just not 2012, when finding hopeful moments has been a scavenger hunt.

And that energy exuded from the presence of Utley, who finished 3 for 5.

"Any time a star player walks through the door and you know they're ready to play and not just rehab, that's a big boost," Jim Thome said before the game. "It's going to be good just to watch his at-bats. You know the fans are going to be excited."

But then Thome, a 22-year veteran, offered some cautious wisdom: "You can't get ahead of yourself."

Indeed. Soon after Ruiz's first-inning blast, Pittsburgh took charge against the Phillies' revolving bullpen door. Because the Phillies used both Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels during a doubleheader in Tampa on Sunday, manager Charlie Manuel turned to his unreliable bullpen for Wednesday night's game.

The combination of Raul Valdes, Joe Savery, Michael Schwimmer, Jake Diekman, Chad Qualls and Antonio Bastardo gave up 11 runs on 14 Pirates hits. Entering Wednesday's game, Phillies relievers ranked 24th in the majors with a 4.46 ERA.

"We have to get our bullpen straightened out," Manuel said. "We have to. What do I always say? Watch the game. You see it, and we see it."

Starting just his second career game (and first since 2010), Valdes lasted two innings. He gave up the lead in top of the second on a three-run homer by Michael McKenry.

Savery was worse: He allowed five earned runs in 22/3 innings. Casey McGehee led off the top of the fourth with a homer to center, and Neil Walker followed with a double.

Pittsburgh scored three more runs off Savery in the fifth as Pittsburgh stretched its lead to 8-2.

But the Phillies looked poised for a comeback. They added a pair of runs on a two-out rally in the sixth inning and crept even closer in the seventh.

Jimmy Rollins tripled to right. Juan Pierre, Utley and Ruiz followed with a string of singles, and the Phillies had cut the lead to 8-7 with no outs in the inning.

But just like after Utley's homer, the excitement soon faded. Hunter Pence struck out. Shane Victorino popped out, and Thome whiffed on a third strike as Utley stood on second base, stranded, waiting to get the type of boost he himself provided.


Contact Tyler Jett at 215-854-4550 or tjett@philly.com.

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