Chase Utley tied a club record Monday night by homering in his fifth straight game. But it was Utley's defensive wizardry that had his Phillies teammates talking.
Already trailing 3-0 and with the Rockies posing a bases-loaded one-out threat in the third inning, Clint Barmes' grounder hit the mound, changed direction and seemingly was headed for the outfield. But Utley launched himself in the air, snagged the ball and turned an inning-ending double play.
"It was amazing," pitcher Kyle Kendrick said. "That was the play of the game. I owe him a steak dinner. He's pretty good. He saved our (butts)."
"Incredible," center fielder Jayson Werth added. "One of the best plays I've seen - ever."
Said Utley, "The ball took a funny hop off the mound, but fortunately, it hung up in the air. I got lucky and caught it."
Three innings later, after Pat Burrell's two-run homer and Werth's inside-the-park homer that kicked off the base of the center-field wall drew the Phils within 5-3, Utley launched his sixth homer in the last five games and league-leading ninth of the season to pull the Phillies within a run.
Utley joined Mike Schmidt (July 6-10, 1979) and Dick Allen (May 27-June 1, 1969) as the only Phillies to homer in five straight games.
"I'm not surprised. Are you surprised?" Werth said when asked about Utley's roll. "Chase is one of the best players in the game, period. If he didn't get hurt last year, (the MVP race) would've been pretty interesting."
Said manager Charlie Manuel, "Chase Utley is a very, very, very tough player. I've been in the game a long time, and he's as tough as any player I've seen. I'm talking about old throwback players, guys like Pete Rose and Kirby Puckett. You could put Utley in that category. He could play with any of them."
Phillies Note Pad
Jayson Werth guessed that his last inside-the-park home run came when he was 13 years old. But when Werth's drive kicked off the base of the center-field wall, he knew he had a chance to score. Flashing his speed in the thin mountain air, he rounded the bases and slid home with the Phillies' first inside-the-park shot since last April 7, when SS Jimmy Rollins turned the trick at Florida.
"When the ball caroms like that, you have to run hard," Werth said. "It's not the same as sea level, I'll tell you that. I thought we were going to have to call in the oxygen tank."
Kyle Kendrick found out that the Rocky Mountain air does funny things to pitches. Kendrick threw two of his patented sinkers Monday night, but when the ball didn't sink, Yorvit Torrealba and Garrett Atkins smashed them for home runs.
"Other than a couple pitches, I felt like I threw the ball all right," Kendrick said.
J.C. Romero was friends with SS Jimmy Rollins before they were teammates. So he felt comfortable telling Rollins on Saturday to spend some time on the disabled list. Rollins has been unable to start since spraining his left ankle April 8. Before his talk with Romero, he preferred to remain on the active roster for pinch-hitting duty. The Phillies put Rollins on the disabled list Sunday. He's eligible to be activated May 5.
"In a funny way, I was telling him, 'I don't need you now. I need you in July and in August,'" Romero said Monday. "I guess that stuck with him. Jimmy's game is based on speed, turns, stuff like that. When you have such a good player with that type of injury, it's better to shut it down and work through it because if the speed is not there, everything is going to be affected. I pretty much just told him, 'Rest your body.' This way, he can take 15 days and get the ankle ready to go. We respect each other. I call him my captain. I felt confident to say something to him. I'm glad he made the decision, and I know he's going to be better when he comes back."
Eric Bruntlett still hasn't done much with his bat since replacing injured Jimmy Rollins in the Phillies' lineup. Entering Monday night's game at Colorado, he was 7-for-41, and that included a 3-for-5, one-homer game April 13. But in a lineup that includes Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and fast-starting Pat Burrell, any offense Bruntlett generates will be a bonus.
Until Rollins returns, it's more essential for the Phillies that Bruntlett catches everything at shortstop. In his first game after replacing Rollins, Bruntlett made two errors in a loss to the Mets. But on Sunday night, he made a game-saving play in the ninth inning of a 5-4 win over New York.
Shane Victorino will begin an injury rehab assignment Tuesday night at Class-A Clearwater. Victorino strained his right calf April 12 and went on the disabled list one day later. He likely will move through the Phillies' minor league system this week and could play at Class AA Reading on Friday night and Class AAA Lehigh Valley during the weekend. Victorino is eligible to be activated from the 15-day disabled list before next Tuesday night's game against the Padres at Citizens Bank Park.