CHASE UTLEY'S longest homer at Citizens Bank Park might have gone farther than Ryan Howard's longest.
"Well, I guess I'm stronger than him then," Utley said.
He was joking.
Utley crushed a 2-2 fastball from Astros reliever Dave Borkwoski an estimated 460 feet to ice Monday's win. Of course, if Utley's went 460, then Howard's 496-foot shot hit 1 year earlier went no farther than 459.
The Phillies acknowledged the initial estimate of Howard's towering shot was inflated, since a sign on a wall about 20 feet from where Howard's landed says that point is 482 feet from home plate. So, say Howard's went 469 feet.
Utley's skipped off the top of a section of the brick batter's eye about 6 feet deeper than the section Howard's cleared. Utley's homer also traveled on a flatter trajectory, so it would travel farther.
Regardless, Utley is proud of the homer. Especially since no one expected it to travel much more than the 401 feet it takes to clear the centerfield fence.
"I knew it was a homer, but I didn't think it was going that freaking far," Pat Burrell said.
"He absolutely mashed that ball," Aaron Rowand said. "I knew it was gone, but it never came down."
"I hit that pretty hard," Utley said. Considering most of his homers fly out to rightfield, he allowed: "I might have pulled some balls [harder], but that surprised me a little bit."
It didn't surprise Howard, and it didn't surprise his manager.
"We get to see it every day," Howard said.
"Utley's a lot stronger than you think he is," Charlie Manuel said. "He has tremendous weight shift and he creates a lot of bat speed."
Certainly, the 6-1, 205-pound Utley isn't as strong as the 6-4, 265-pound Howard. However, after gaining 15 pounds in the offseason and finding pitchers staying away from his quick hands, he has taken a page from Howard's book.
"He's been working a lot on hitting the ball the other way," Manuel said.
He needed to. Utley was hitting .213 with two homers and six RBI and was 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position before Saturday, when Manuel held a meeting in which he encouraged his better hitters to stop pressing. Utley entered last night 5-for-12 with two homers, three doubles and seven RBI since the meeting. The double he crushed last night in the sixth off starter Jason Bergmann went about 380 feet to left-centerfield - an 0-2 outside pitch that Utley went with.
"Sometimes, you have to give in as a hitter," Utley said. "Ideally, you'd like to hit every ball to the right-center gap as a lefthanded hitter. It doesn't happen all the time. Sometimes, you have to give in and work with what they're giving you."
Which is what he did when he hit the longest homer of his career.
"When I first hit it, I thought it had a chance to go out. I've only hit a couple to centerfield here," Utley said. "I definitely didn't think it was going that far."
How far it went, comparatively, remains open to debate.
With Matt Smith struggling to command his slider and fastball, Manuel feels he has no go-to lefthander in his bullpen.
The Phillies hope 21-year-old Fabio Castro, who flopped in spring training this season, remains effective at Triple A Ottawa, where he has been used as a reliever to get ready for a call-up. Castro, a starter in winter ball, had allowed one earned run in five relief appearances entering last night.
Manuel said he will not use lefthanded starters Jamie Moyer or Cole Hamels out of the 'pen between starts, as Joe Torre did Sunday with Yankees lefthanded starter Andy Pettitte. Moyer's between-starts routine is too rigid, Manuel said, and Hamels' delicate health is too precious.
Triple A catcher Jason Jaramillo, the Phils' most advanced catching prospect in the minors, went 10-for-21 with a double and four RBI and was the organization's minor league player of the week for April 16-22 . . . Third baseman Wes Helms has a hit in 14 of his 16 starts. *