Utley continues crusade but Phils fall short

Zach Miner started in place of Kyle Kendrick and threw three scoreless innings for the Phillies. YONG KIM / Staff
Zach Miner started in place of Kyle Kendrick and threw three scoreless innings for the Phillies. YONG KIM / Staff
Posted: September 20, 2013

A stadium bustled around Chase Utley minutes before Wednesday's first pitch. Utley, being honored for two awards, stood in front of the Phillies dugout. A camera focused on his face. Public address announcer Dan Baker enumerated the second baseman's many charitable ventures.

Utley's eyes darted. The ceremony before a 4-3 Phillies loss to Miami dragged. It was awkward; the man who played baseball all last winter to ensure his action in September was rendered motionless. He dashed to the dugout when it ended. A smirking teammate offered mocking applause because everyone knew it pained Utley to devote crucial seconds to something other than preparation.

Utley played his 122d game Wednesday. That is his highest total since 2009. His 2013 offensive production recalls the days when Utley was in his prime and the words chondromalacia and patellar tendinitis had not yet entered Philadelphia's lexicon.

"It's all good signs of what he's doing, being able to play and go about his business," interim manager Ryne Sandberg said. "That's obviously a bright spot this year."

So is the Phillies' resolve under Sandberg. Game 152 went to the bullpen because of Kyle Kendrick's sore shoulder. It remained tied until the 10th, when Cesar Jimenez, the seventh Phillies pitcher, allowed a solo homer to Ed Lucas. The Phillies loaded the bases in the bottom half of the inning and could not score.

Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria made two outstanding defensive plays, including one in the eighth inning to rob Roger Bernadina of a potential winning single.

"You think it's going to turn out well," Bernadina said, "but he made a great play out of it."

Journeyman Zach Miner started for the first time in four years. He chewed three scoreless innings. Luis Garcia permitted a run on a wild pitch. Ethan Martin surrendered a monster two-run home run to Giancarlo Stanton that bounced into the Planet Hoagie stand on Ashburn Alley. Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, and Jake Diekman followed with scoreless innings.

These games are said to carry importance for the younger players. How Utley, 34, finishes the season is consequential. The Phillies rewarded Utley with a two-year, $27 million deal in August. His output this season has improved with more wear and tear on his chronically injured knees.

Utley crushed two home runs in the first two games of this series. He drilled a two-run single to right in the fifth inning Wednesday to boost the Phillies to a temporary lead. Utley has recorded an RBI in five straight games, his longest streak since 2009.

Most impressive is Utley's performance relative to his position. His .827 OPS ranks third among all major-league second basemen. The challenge will be maintaining it. Utley turns 35 in December. Jeff Kent is the only second baseman 35 or older to post an .800 OPS or better since 2001.

"He's swinging a real good bat," Sandberg said. "He's showing his power. He's showing his leadership. He's played a lot this year. All of that is good for him. He's a mainstay out there. He's a steady force. He's a big piece for next year and he's shown the type of player he is. I expect no less next year."

That is a welcome sight, even in meaningless games, for these Phillies.

Contact Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com.

Follow on Twitter @magelb.

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