Chase Utley waited through a one-week layoff, the lineup introductions and the Backstreet Boys' take on the National Anthem. And then, just 14 pitches into the 2008 World Series between Utley's Phillies and the Rays, he used one swing of the bat to prove rust would not be a factor in Game 1 on Wednesday night.
Utley's two-run homer off Rays left-hander Scott Kazmir in the first inning set the tone for the Phillies' eventual 3-2 victory at Tropicana Field. Not bad for an at-bat that began with a bunt attempt. "I guess it turned out pretty well," Utley said. Utley turned on a low-and-inside fastball clocked at 92 mph. It was a 2-2 pitch that Utley pulled into the right-field stands for a 377-foot blast. In facing the left-handed Utley, Kazmir wanted to hit the outside edge of the plate. Instead, he put one right where Utley likes it. "He's different than most left-handed hitters," Kazmir said. "I would say more have a long swing, they don't really know how to get to an inside fastball too well to a lefty. But him, you can just tell he loves to keep his hands in and he likes that short and quick swing. But I knew just from watching video and games here and there he likes a pitch in. He just gets his hands through the zone." When his initial bunt attempt with Jayson Werth at first went foul, Utley, who was facing the Rays' dramatic shift with the infield playing to the right, had a new, simple mentality at the plate. "I was just trying to put the ball in play," he said. He's done that plenty of times this postseason, having reached base safely in each of the Phillies' October games. But the 29-year-old Utley has put it over the wall twice now in 36 at-bats this postseason. Utley was the 34th player to hit a homer in his first World Series at-bat. Boston's Dustin Pedroia and Bobby Kielty did it last year. "I try to treat every day the same, whether it's the first day of Spring Training or today," Utley said. "I feel it's easier on yourself to do it that way. No game is bigger than another game. ... [But] coming up with a few homers obviously feels good." This homer, of course, was instrumental in the Phillies putting the Fall Classic in their favor, despite the ringing cowbells of The Trop and the sudden October mystique of their opponent. It spoiled an otherwise impressive outing by Kazmir, who threw 110 pitches and regretted only one. "Just that one pitch," Kazmir said. "Everything else I'll take. I was kind of going over and over [scouting reports] to attack them and attack the outside corner, and I just couldn't get it there." And Utley got all of it.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.