PHILADELPHIA -- Brad Lidge saw smoke coming from the ball as it rocketed past him toward center field. He'd be forgiven for thinking, "Uh oh," but Chase Utley squelched that notion before it could form in Lidge's head. The player called a "baseball rat," and "Dirtball" had finished off the game by stabbing Joey Votto's liner and dusted himself off while exchanging game-ending high fives. "I knew it was hit hard, so I was hoping it was at somebody," said Lidge, of the play that sealed Philadelphia's 5-4 win over the Reds. "When I turned around and saw Chase in the air and coming down with it, I was thinking, 'Man, this guy's got it going right now.' He's doing everything for us. It's great to have him behind me. You can't say enough about him right now."More
Utley had another one of those games on Monday at Citizens Bank Park, in what is quickly becoming his normal routine. Utley shows up, hits a home run, makes a diving play -- and the Phillies win. Utley has homered in five straight games, tying a club record shared by Bobby Abreu (May 8-12, 2005), Mike Schmidt (July 6-10, 1979) and Dick Allen (May 27-June 1, 1969). Utley also homered in five consecutive games from April 17-21, hitting six long balls in that span. A home run Tuesday would establish a franchise record, and shots through Friday would shatter the record of eight straight, held by Dale Long in the National League and Ken Griffey Jr. and Don Mattingly in the American League. Utley's performance was just symptomatic of a Phillies team that has won seven of eight games to move into first place in the NL East. Utley has homered in seven of eight games, somehow missing the May 27 win over Colorado. The Phillies entered Monday's game having averaged 9.17 runs in their past six games, while the Reds were at 6.17 during the same span, led mostly by red-hot rookie Jay Bruce. Philadelphia countered with Utley. "Two forces meet," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said before the game. "Something's gotta give." Utley gave Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick a lead with a two-run homer in the first, a line drive that cleared the right-field wall. It was a nearly a carbon copy of the home runs he generally hits at Citizens Bank Park. "He's hot," Manuel said. "He's swinging the bat about as good as I've ever seen." When Geoff Jenkins heard Utley's name, he smiled. "He's OK," Jenkins said, tongue firmly in cheek. "If you have him on your team, I guess you'll take him, but it's not like he does anything that helps you. He only hits one homer a day. He's decent. He dives once in a while." Jenkins then turned serious. "He's really good," Jenkins said. "He's the type of guy that you want on your team. He's the ultimate leader. He hustles. He plays the game the right way. I know that's being mentioned here a lot, and I think people use it too much, but that's just the way he is. He's the hardest worker I've ever played with. He studies the most. He's the best player in the game, hands down. "When you have a chance to play with a guy, you get a chance to see their make-up. If you were to mold a player, you would start with Chase Utley."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less