"I'll be back," Utley said. "Don't worry, guys."
He wasn't kidding.
Utley returned to carry the Phillies down the stretch, teaming with Jimmy Rollins to form an offensive punch that overwhelmed the rest of the National League East. For the last month of the season, the Phillies could do no wrong, as they finally began to match the standard that Rollins and Utley had been setting all summer.
And now that the season's over, it's time for their due respect.
Both Rollins and Utley won Silver Slugger Awards on Friday, Rollins earning the first of his career and Utley snagging his second. The Silver Slugger is far from a silver medal for two players who desperately wanted to play deep into October. It represents offensive excellence at two positions traditionally known for defense, and serves as an affirmation that Rollins and Utley are indeed as good as it gets in the National League.
Utley finished the season with a .332 average, 22 homers and 103 RBIs -- remarkable, considering that his broken hand ultimately forced him to miss more than a month's worth of games. Rollins, meanwhile, played in all 162 games, finishing at .296 with 30 homers and 41 stolen bases. That made him one of just 32 players in Major League history to hit at least 30 homers and steal at least 30 bases, and one of only three shortstops to accomplish the feat.
"It's nice to be recognized for my offensive prowess by the managers and coaches," said Rollins. "I take a lot of pride in hitting and I really am honored to receive this award."
Louisville Slugger's Silver Slugger Award winners were determined by Major League Baseball coaches and managers, who vote for the players they felt were the best offensive producers at each position in both the American and National Leagues in 2007. Selections are based on a combination of offensive statistics, including batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, as well as the coaches' and managers' general impressions of a player's overall offensive value. Managers and coaches are not allowed to vote for players on their own team.
2007 Silver Slugger winners
|C||Jorge Posada, NYY|
|1B||Carlos Pena, TB|
|2B||Placido Polanco, DET|
|3B||Alex Rodriguez, NYY|
|SS||Derek Jeter, NYY|
|OF||Vladimir Guerrero, LAA|
|OF||Ichiro Suzuki, SEA|
|OF||Magglio Ordonez, DET|
|DH||David Ortiz, BOS|
|C||Russell Martin, LAD|
|1B||Prince Fielder, MIL|
|2B||Chase Utley, PHI|
|3B||David Wright, NYM|
|SS||Jimmy Rollins, PHI|
|OF||Carlos Beltran, NYM|
|OF||Matt Holliday, COL|
|OF||Carlos Lee, HOU|
|P||Micah Owings, ARI|
The specially designed Silver Slugger Award will be presented to each player by a representative of the Hillerich & Bradsby Co., makers of Louisville Slugger, the Official Bat of Major League Baseball, in a ceremony early in the 2008 season. The trophy is three feet tall and bears the engraved name of the winner and his Silver Slugger teammates in his respective league.
The Silver Slugger Award was instituted by H&B in 1980 as a natural extension of the Silver Bat Award, which is, as its name indicates, a silver-plated bat presented by Louisville Slugger to the batting champions in the AL and NL. This year's Silver Bat Award winners are Colorado's Matt Holliday and Detroit's Magglio Ordonez. Holliday hit .340 to win the NL batting title. Ordonez led the Major Leagues in batting with a .363 average and claimed the AL honor. Both will receive their awards in on-field presentations early in the 2008 season.
Those two played outfield positions, which are notorious for their offensive expectations. Rollins and Utley didn't. And though the notion that good teams win through strength up the middle has been prevalent for years, even baseball's wisest forefathers couldn't have envisioned strength like this.
Consider that Utley never hit worse than .296 in any month, and that he hit .372 at Citizens Bank Park. And consider that his .332 overall mark was tops among all NL second basemen by a whopping 28 points. Then consider what he could have done if completely healthy.
"What do you want me to say about him?" Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said after Utley hit a game-winning homer against the Mets in June. "I can't say enough. When I start talking about Chase, you could probably come back this time next year and I could be talking. I think he's that good."
Scary good, considering that he might not even be the best hitter in his own infield. Rollins broke out to have his best season in 2007, setting career highs in every major offensive category -- and a slew of minor categories as well. He boasted before the season that his Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East, and then backed it up as convincingly as anyone could have expected. He already earned one accolade with a Gold Glove earlier this week, and he's now working his way down the list of precious metals.
"He's done everything you can ask," first baseman Ryan Howard said in September. "He's been the catalyst for our team. He's stepped up into the leadership role, made it known and is making things happen. Is he the MVP? I think so. While everything else has fallen apart this year, he's the guy who's made things happen."
And so the Silver Slugger may just be a stepping stone to even greater recognition this offseason. Rollins has established himself not just as an MVP candidate but as an MVP favorite, posting gaudy offensive numbers all summer at a premium defensive position.
"It's something I definitely set out to do this year," Rollins said in September. "This is the time in my career where athletes, baseball players, start to have their peak years. [You've] been around, you start to learn about yourself, about what the rest of the league is doing trying to stop you. Suddenly, you know how to take all this information and put it together in a consistent season. And then you start doing that year after year after year. Hopefully, this is the middle of that type of career for me."
And for the Phillies, perhaps the core of something even bigger.
Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.