CLEARWATER, Fla. - The signature play of the 2008 World Series began like a thousand others in the season that preceded it, with Tampa Bay's Akinori Iwamura chopping a J.C. Romero slider slowly up the middle.
And though what followed took just an instant to transpire, four months later, as the Phillies prepare to open 2009 spring training tomorrow, memories of it have not yet faded, and are not likely to fade any time soon.
This little ground ball was extremely significant, a fact betrayed by the intensified crowd noise it generated and by the chaotic choreography it touched off at every base.
Iwamura, limbs pumping, sped toward first. Braking himself after gloving the ball on the run, Chase Utley slowed near second. At third, coach Tom Foley windmilled his right arm as Jason Bartlett approached. And at home plate, where all this action would coalesce like the meteorological forces that form a hurricane, Carlos Ruiz moved into position for a possible throw.
The Phillies and Rays were tied at 3-3 in the seventh inning of a game that could determine the Series.
Yet in the Tampa Bay dugout, manager Joe Maddon flashed back to a mundane spring-training moment, seven months earlier.
"It's something we actually talked about and worked on in spring training," Maddon said of the play. "It's a drill where you tell your guys, 'If you're coming around second base like that in certain circumstances, you keep coming until I stop you.' We talked about that stuff. And now there it was."
What followed, of course, likely will live forever in the memories of Phillies fans, in the reels of World Series highlights, and certainly in the minds of its participants.
Several of the principals in what is now, in Philadelphia at least, simply called "Utley's Play," suggested this week that the memorable moment was simply a case of several people – Bartlett, Foley, Ruiz and, of course, Utley - doing the right thing.
"I thought everybody did everything right," Maddon said this week, "except that it worked to their advantage."
It began with Iwamura, who walked to the plate with two outs in the seventh inning of a game tied at 3-3.
Bartlett was at second base.
A pumped-up crowd at Citizens Bank Park, anticipating a World Series-clinching Phillies victory, seemed to have tensed up.
After striking out Dioner Navarro to start the seventh, Phils reliever Ryan Madson had allowed a game-tying home run to Rocco Baldelli. Madson had been near-perfect for a month, but now Baldelli's blow appeared to unnerve him.
Bartlett followed with a single to right and advanced to second on pitcher J.P. Howell's sacrifice bunt.
Charlie Manuel loped to the mound and signaled for Romero to face the lefthanded-hitting Iwamura.
The nasty lefthander's first pitch was a ball. Iwamura lunged at his next offering, managing to bounce it up the middle.
"It wasn't a routine play, but it wasn't overly difficult," Utley recalled. "With that [potential] run on base, you're thinking, 'Don't let the ball get through. Try to make a play. Keep it in the infield.' From the time you start playing, you hear coaches in that situation say, 'Keep it in the infield.' That was one of those situations."
Utley ranged far to his right to catch up with the ground ball. But his momentum carried him behind second base. Any throw was going to be difficult.
Bartlett, meanwhile, had been running on contact, watching third-base coach Foley, not knowing whether Utley had stopped the ball or not.
"I'd do the same thing 99 percent of the time," Bartlett said. "He [Foley] was looking for something, whether to hold me or send me. I looked up and he told me to go. I'm sure if you ask him, he'll do it every time again."
By the time the runner hit the bag, Foley saw Utley turn to throw to first. It was the coach and not the runner who was fooled by Utley's phantom throw.
"He doesn't stop unless I say stop," Foley said. "I saw Utley start to go to first and I kept him going with two outs."
Maddon said that with two outs in a tie game, he expected Foley to do just what he did.
Earlier in the season, with Bartlett again the baserunner, Foley had sent him on a slow chopper to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Like Utley, Pedroia had faked to first, hoping to lure the runner home.
"Pedroia tried to do that on me at the Trop," Bartlett said, "and he made a bad throw and I was safe."
Utley judged that with Iwamura's quickness and his position on the field, he almost certainly couldn't get enough on a throw to force him at first. In an instant, he decided to try to fake the runner.
"Those are plays you don't work on," he said. "You're aware of the situation and you don't want the run to score. You'd rather allow another baserunner than a run. I faked and looked at home. He was running hard and he was right at third base when I looked at him. I knew I had plenty of time to make a throw."
Bartlett felt that if Utley went to first, he likely could beat Ryan Howard's throw home. And if Utley came home instead, the throw would need to be a good one.
The Phils second baseman, meanwhile, had calculated the same set of circumstances and arrived at a different answer.
"I bounced it on purpose," Utley said. "I just wanted to get it there quickly, just get it out of my hand and into [Ruiz's] glove. I didn't think I needed to make a perfect throw."
Midway down the line, with the crowd on its feet, the stadium noise swelling, Bartlett thought he'd be a dead-duck - until he saw Ruiz stretch to his right for the throw.
"That allowed me a chance," he said. "I slid on the inside of the base. That was my best chance. I could have tried to hit him, but he was way out of the way."
Ruiz dove and swipe-tagged the baserunner for the third out. Crisis averted, the crowd relaxed. So did the Phillies who, in the bottom of the inning, parlayed a Pat Burrell double off the wall and a Pedro Feliz single into the Series-winning run.
"They all did a good job," Bartlett said of the play. "It's something that if I did make it and was safe, you guys would be talking about how great a play it was.
"I see replays of it every now and then. I watch. It's not that big a deal. I mean it is a big deal, but there's nothing that I can do. I'm not regretting anything and I don't think anybody else is either. It was just a real good baseball play. Tip your hat to Chase."