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Utley homers in return, Phils drill Mets

Utley homers in return, Phils drill Mets

PHILADELPHIA -- Chase Utley must work on his left-handed high-five or avoid Aaron Rowand during dugout celebrations.

Apparently, those are the only two challenges remaining for the Phillies' All-Star second baseman, whose swing certainly hasn't suffered from 4 1/2 weeks on the disabled list.

By his fifth at-bat of the Phillies' 9-2 pasting of the Mets to begin a crucial four-game series, chants of "M-V-P" resonated from the Phils' portion of the 38,165 fans at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night. Utley promptly added to his home run and double, slicing a single for his third hit.

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What rust?

"Some guys just come out raking," Rowand said. "That didn't take long."

"We were wondering if his swing was going to come back," Ryan Howard said, with a laugh. "He didn't miss a beat. Teams knew that day was going to come where they would have to face him."

Count Mets manager Willie Randolph as one of many opponents not pleased to see Utley's strong return, along with All-Stars David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran. Utley reminded the home crowd what they so dearly missed since Washington rookie John Lannan broke his hand 32 days ago.

After making outs in his first two at-bats, Utley smashed a fifth-inning Brian Lawrence pitch well over the fence in left-center, providing the most pivotal of Philadelphia's nine runs, despite the fact that it didn't win the game or give the club the lead.

It returned the Phillies back the momentum.

Boosted by Jayson Werth's RBI double and Mets killer Pat Burrell's two-run homer, starter J.D. Durbin struck out five and induced two comebackers in retiring the first 12 batters.

But when Beltran began the fifth with a double and New York pulled to within a run, the air about the park threatened to turn blue and orange.

Before Durbin could think about what to correct, Utley stroked a one-out homer.

"The energy after that, you could just feel it," Durbin said. "I think it carried over and it's why we scored nine runs. I mean, he's Chase Utley. He's going to produce for you."

In the dugout, Utley desperately tried to not "whack" his right hand on anything, which meant gentle high-fives and staying clear of the team's exuberant center fielder.

"I tend to get a little excited sometimes," Rowand said.

The moment wasn't lost on anyone.

"That was the deciding factor of the game," Chris Coste said. "We scored more [later] and put it out of reach, but if they shut us down that inning, who knows what might have happened. It gave Durbin that one notch of confidence back to go out and not try to be too fine. That gave him breathing room to fire the ball and let his natural stuff take over."

Naturally, Durbin took over and lasted 6 1/3 innings, and the bullpen finished up, allowing the Phillies to climb within five games of the National League East leaders. They remained three back of the Padres -- who beat the Diamondbacks on Monday -- in the NL Wild Card race.

Werth also deserves a mention, as he forgot how to make an out for the second straight game, reaching base in all five of his plate appearances. With hits in nine straight at-bats, Werth is one away from tying the NL mark -- held by 10 players -- and three away from tying the Major League mark of 12, held by Detroit's Walt Dropo and Boston's Pinky Higgins.

Werth preferred not to discuss his potential shot at history.

"Subject change, please," he said, with a laugh.

Howard chimed in, urging the media to "leave him be."

Personal accomplishments aside, the Phillies didn't need to be reminded of this potentially giant step in a season of adversity. Two days ago, the Phils suffered a second devastating loss to the Padres.

Now the chase resumes with Chase.

"A lot of people have probably written us off, because of all the injuries and everything," Howard said. "With [Utley] coming out with a bang like he did tonight, people are probably going to be worried."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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