Utley focused on race, but keeps eye on Phils

Longtime Phillie pleased to see former club's second-half improvement

Utley focused on race, but keeps eye on Phils

PHILADELPHIA -- "The Man" is back in town. Unlike his initial return to Philadelphia last season -- a two-homer homecoming last August -- Chase Utley could find himself in a less-than-familiar setting with the Dodgers on the threshold of sealing the National League West crown.

"It's a little different from last year, but it's still a little awkward," Utley said. "For the amount of years that I played here, to suit up in this locker room is just different."

Same goes for a potential celebratory champagne shower.

"We have clinched a few over in that clubhouse, so to do it over here would be a bit awkward at first, but it is what it is," Utley said.

That "we" Utley referred to is dwindling in number.

Utley, who was traded to the Dodgers in 2015 after 13 years with the Phillies, was one of the final vestiges of the last successful Phillies era. Carlos Ruiz was shipped to Seattle in 2016, Ryan Howard played out the remainder of that same season in Philadelphia before his 2017 option was declined, and, just like that, the number of Phillies from their 2008 championship team still sporting the uniform totaled zero.

Among players 38 years old or older this season, Utley's 92 OPS+ ranks second behind only future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre. And just behind Utley? Jayson Werth and Ruiz, both integral parts of the World Series-champion Phillies. There's something to be said for the staying power of the players on those great Phillies teams.

Utley received a standing ovation from the 16,000-plus Phillies fans in attendance in the Phillies' 4-3 win, just as he did upon his return last season.

"The fans have always treated me great here," Utley said. "I appreciate how they've supported me over the years, and now that I'm in a different uniform, they're still cheering me on."

As easy as it would be for him to get whisked away by the memories held at Citizens Bank Park from a career that predates the building itself, Utley and his Dodgers have more pressing issues at hand. Despite having fallen from what for months was a near-historic pace, the Dodgers are on the verge of an NL West title.

"When you're in the middle of it, you're just kind of focused on what you need to do to win games," Utley said.

That near-sighted focus is precisely what you'd expect to hear from the lunch pail-carrying, business-as-usual Utley.

"Trying to take it one day at a time, but I'm still enjoying it. I'm still having fun," Utley said. "I still feel like I can contribute out there, so I'm not looking too far ahead."

That said, he's still pleased to see the Phillies' second-half improvement, catching their highlights from time to time.

"When I turn the TV on and watch highlights I tend to see them," said Utley. "I'm happy they're playing better."

Ben Harris is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.