AND IT WAS written in the holy book:
"Behold, the days come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of scoring runs:
"And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek home plate, and shall not find it."
- Phillies 20:11
The Phillies' first hit last night against the Colorado Rockies came in the third inning, a single to left by Carlos Ruiz. Their first run came in the fifth inning, unearned, driven in by a sharp single off the bat of Wilson Valdez. Their second run came in the eighth inning, courtesy of a sacrifice fly by Jimmy Rollins. And that was that.
That those two runs held up was a testament to the work done by starting pitcher Cole Hamels and closer Ryan Madson; Phils 2, Rockies 1. It is an exhausting way to try to win ballgames - two runs, five hits, no margin for error - but it is what the Phillies are these days.
Meanwhile, they all seem to be waiting . . .
. . . waiting for a sign from the south . . .
. . . waiting for Chase Utley.
"I think that they think, when Chase comes back, everything's going to be fine - and it might," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Take one player like Chase Utley out of your lineup and, yeah, that does make a big difference."
Utley played the whole game last night in Clearwater and went 1-for-4 with an RBI single as he continues the minor league portion of his comeback from a knee injury. The plan is for him to play another full game today. Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said it was unlikely Utley would be back with the team by the weekend, that they still needed to give him more time and more at-bats.
When he comes back, the fanfare and the hype (and the hope) will be palpable for a team that has now collected five or fewer hits in five straight games. The last time the Phillies did that was in 1969. The club record since 1919, according to baseball-reference.com, is six games in a row, set in 1959.
That is what Utley will be walking into when he arrives. But he cannot be the whole difference and they all should know it. To wait for Utley to be the savior is to kid themselves. Yes, he will make a positive impact. Yes, as Amaro said, Utley provides "a pretty sizable presence" in the middle of the Phillies' lineup.
But so many other bats are so achingly quiet at this point that Utley cannot possibly be expected to ignite a wildfire by himself. Domonic Brown needs to claim a spot in this outfield, soon. Carlos Ruiz needs to refind his stroke. Jimmy Rollins needs to demonstrate again that he is a player who heats up along with the weather. Ryan Howard needs to rediscover the strike zone. Shane Victorino needs to get healthy.
Utley cannot repair all of that. Coming off the knee injury, seeing his first major league pitching of the season when he arrives, unlikely to be pushed to the physical limit at the beginning - it just isn't reasonable to assume that the simple act of writing his name on the lineup card will make everything all better.
There are too many other spots slumping. As Manuel said, simply, kind of forlornly, "We used to have a lot more baserunners."
And then there was this from the manager. He seemed to be trying to deliver a message to his team and to disown the message at the same time. He started by talking about how, in his 7 years with the team, he has felt its internal slogan was one of always wanting to do things, not having to do them.
"I look at it sometimes and, if there's anything wrong, it's maybe because . . . maybe we'd better want to do it a little bit better. Does that make sense?
"Maybe we should want to do it a little bit more. We can relax and things like that, and we can play loose and things like that. But maybe we do need to enjoy it a little bit more . . .
"I can't imagine a hitter not wanting to walk into our ballpark and play. If I'm hurt or if I'm injured and I could possibly play in this yard, I would be out there playing. And I mean that."
The followup question came quickly, as anyone would expect. It concerned the issue of a lack of fire among his players.
"I ain't saying that at all, no," Manuel said. "I can't read somebody's mind. I can watch the way we play, though, but I can't read somebody's mind."
Another followup, about complacency.
"I'm not saying we're complacent, not at all," Manuel said. "That just stirs up a whole new ball of wax. I'm just saying, if I walked in this yard, I'd be sky-high, believe me."
You can decide what Manuel's intentions were there - but he apparently performed a similar dance for the television cameras a little while later. If this was a message, and if it was intended for anyone in particular, no one can say for certain.
But this is the quote that stands out:
" . . . maybe we'd better want to do it a little bit better . . . "
The guess is that it was intended for a wide audience within his clubhouse. Because however much his return is anticipated, Chase Utley cannot possibly fix this by himself.
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