NEW YORK - When asked to assess the importance of this week's series against the New York Mets, Phillies players relied on two words, repeating endlessly and usually with a shrug: "It's early."
But last night's 5-4, 11-inning win at Citi Field had many elements of late-season intensity: a game-winning home run by Chase Utley, his second homer of the night, in an inning made possible by Jayson Werth's game-saving catch. An uncommonly crisp June evening. A stadium full of New York fans booing Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels with full-throated dislike.
After Werth made a diving grab of David Wright's two-out shot into the gap in right-center in the 10th, as Fernando Martinez raced toward home and a probable Mets win, the game ended with bedtime-busting excitement and an Utley homer minutes later.
"Big comeback," said manager Charlie Manuel, whose team trailed by 4-1 at the beginning of the seventh. "Good game. It was a heck of a game. . . . Every game we play is big with [the Mets]. We like to play them; they like to play us. It's a good rivalry. Everything about it is good."
With the score tied at 4 in the bottom of the 10th and Martinez on first, Wright launched a drive into right-center. Werth had only an instant to decide if he should dive or play the ball on a hop. The ball briefly vanished into the lights, he said. When it came down, it was closer to Werth's glove than he had expected.
"I dove for it and where I caught it, I didn't think it would be that close to the ground," he said. "I felt like I made the right choice and came up with it."
"I think if the ball gets by him, the game is over," said Utley, referring to the likelihood that Martinez would score. "Without that play, we don't win the game."
The catch allowed Utley a chance to lead off the 11th against reliever Bobby Parnell and send a 1-0 pitch into the right-field seats, giving the Phillies the lead and Utley his second homer of the night. (His first came in the fourth off starter Mike Pelfrey.)
"It's kind of nice having Utley," Manuel said. "I kind of like Utley. He's a tremendous player, a special player, and I can't talk enough about him."
Hours before the conclusion, Hamels struggled through five innings, allowing 11 hits and four runs. Though he was ultimately cleared of the decision, five fourth-inning singles led to three runs and defined his performance.
But the Phillies unleashed their own barrage of singles in the seventh, leading off the inning with four. Pedro Feliz's hit off Sean Green scored Ryan Howard from third, narrowing the Mets' lead to 4-2. Wright failed to handle Carlos Ruiz's grounder, scoring another run. Rollins then reached on a fielder's choice that tied the score at 4.
The Mets loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning, but Scott Eyre struck out Daniel Murphy to keep the game tied, where it would remain until Utley's late-night blast.