Notes: Utley ponders road not taken

Notes: Utley ponders road not taken

LOS ANGELES -- Chase Utley received a fair share of boos during pregame introductions on Wednesday and again when he batted in the first inning. The local kid from Pasadena, Calif., has had similar greetings all series, mostly because there's no blue on his uniform.

It could've been different.

Growing up in Southern California, Utley was faced with a tough decision when his hometown team selected him in the second round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft out of Long Beach Poly High School. UCLA also beckoned, and Utley selected college.

"I wanted to go to college and experience college life, start some of my education," said Utley, who majored in history. "If baseball was in my future, it would still be there after college. It was a difficult decision. At one point, I really thought I was going to sign, but I didn't want to pass up college."

After hitting a combined .342 with 53 home runs in 170 games over three seasons with the Bruins, baseball was definitely in his future. He met his wife, Jennifer, there, introduced by former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, and he starred on the field with Colorado Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins.

The Phillies took him 15th overall in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, and he's already made two All-Star teams. The Phillies are happy with Utley's life choice.

"I got as close as you can get without signing [with the Dodgers]," Utley said. "My parents left it up to me, but they were in favor of college. It was UCLA, and it might have been different if it was somewhere else, but it was an opportunity to get a scholarship. College was the best time of my life."

Howard file: The .264 overall batting average looks pedestrian, especially considering that it's printed after National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Howard's name on a stats sheet.

Consider now Howard's average since returning from the disabled list on May 25: .297 with 19 home runs and 50 RBIs in 47 games, with three of the homers coming in the past two games. NL pitchers may want to be extra careful.

"I'm feeling better," said Howard, who was batting .204 with six homers when a strained left quad sent him to the DL on May 9. "I'm just trying to have good [at-bats] and see the ball better. I'm just swinging."

Pretty well, it seems, though Howard will rarely admit that he feels good at the plate. In mentioning Howard's 73 RBIs, manager Charlie Manuel said that he doesn't feel Howard's hit his stride yet, but Howard said he's close.

"There's a difference being feeling good and swinging at bad pitches and feeling bad and swinging at bad pitches," Howard said. "It's trying to put it together in back-to-back games. [Tuesday] and [Wednesday] are a great start."

Super golden 0-fer: When your team pounds 26 hits and plates 15 runs -- both season highs -- you'd hate to be the guy Chris Coste almost was on Tuesday.

The hitless guy, that is.

Coste luckily avoid the fate suffered by Carlos Ruiz -- who went 0-for-4 in a 23-hit attack on July 13 -- when he scraped a bloop single in his final at-bat. That avoided what would've been an 0-for-6 evening.

"Don't think that wasn't brought up on the bench," Coste said. "When I was 0-for-5 and coming back to the dugout, I was disappointed that I didn't have a hit, but [J.D. Durbin] was throwing a great game, so it was OK. Then Chase Utley walked over to me and said [sarcastically], 'Man, you're calling a great game.'"

Analytical to the end, Coste wasn't sure what to think about a potential sixth at-bat.

"Seriously, you have mixed feelings about wanting to go back up there again -- because 0-for-5 and 0-for-6 doesn't really matter, but still, 0-for-6 stinks. At the same time, I had a good idea I was going to get up again. I faced Joe Beimel and I had good success against him -- looping balls into right field. I was trying not to smile [at first base], but at the same time, it was humorous."

Coste rationalized his collar by joking that he was just trying to move the game along, and knew that Durbin was a great leadoff hitter. The pitcher led off three innings with hits after Coste recorded the final out of the previous inning. Coste also referenced the July 3 extra-inning loss in Houston, when Durbin pitched two innings in relief but was lifted for a pinch-hitter.

Maybe that won't happen now.

"When it was extra innings and he came in to pitch and they pinch-hit with Jamie Moyer, he came up to me and said, 'I don't want to say anything, but I can hit a little bit,'" Coste said. "He's earned himself an emergency pinch-hit every now and then."

Told this, Durbin smiled and went into a mock hitter's stance.

"Yep," he said. "I'd like that."

Coming up: Cole Hamels will go after his first win against his hometown club on Thursday night when the Phillies take on the Padres in a 10:10 ET contest at PETCO Park.

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