MAYBE IT WAS the butterfly effect.

That's something in chaos theory in which a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state.

For instance, the presence or absence of the flapping of a butterfly's wings could lead to the creation of or absence of a hurricane.

Hey, it's a chaos theory; it's not supposed to be easy to understand.

Anyway, last night, Chase Utley entered the Phillies' lineup for the first time this season.

Manager Charlie Manuel penciled in Utley at the second spot in the batting order, behind Jimmy Rollins.

The second baseman went 0-for-5 with a strikeout, but the Phillies, whose struggling offense hadn't scored more than three runs in nine consecutive games, had a proverbial "busting-out party."

The Phillies scored nine runs, the most since April 29. After averaging only five hits over their last nine games, the Phillies got 10 hits. Oh, did I forget to mention that those nine runs and 10 hits came in the first three innings of their 10-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds?

By the time the third inning was done, every Phillie in the batting order except Utley had a hit. For the game, they finished with 14 hits, including home runs by Placido Polanco, Raul Ibanez and Jimmy Rollins.

For the first time in long time, a Phillies starting pitcher - in this case, Cole Hamels - didn't have to walk a tightrope of near perfection just to squeeze out a victory.

Utley returned and the Phillies offense came with him. In his last four regular-season starts, dating back to last year, the Phillies have scored 11, seven, seven and, now, 10.

Sure, it's hard to explain, but again, it's chaos theory.

The real news was that Utley simply was playing after dealing with tendinitis in his right knee. The injury, which cost Utley the first 46 games, is as about as baffling as any that a Philadelphia athlete has experienced.

Nobody really knows for sure what caused it. Opinions varied on the best treatment.

Most critically, for the moment, nobody knows for sure how much the injury will allow Utley to play.

"I think I know my body better than anybody else," Utley said. "I know what I can deal with and what I can't deal with.

"This has been a learning experience for me. I've had to show a little patience throughout this whole process . . .

"I don't have all the answers. There will be constant communication between me and Charlie on how it's going to happen. If I feel good, I'll be in there. If I feel a little discomfort, maybe I'll take a day off."

The bigger issue isn't how Utley felt last night, but how he will feel before tonight's game.

Utley played four consecutive rehabilitation games in Clearwater before returning to the Phillies on Sunday.

"The whole thing is to try and figure out how it's going to feel the next day," Utley said. "In Florida, it responded great.

"I was able to play a lot and play without thinking about it, which was important."

Utley says the Phillies have a "program" for him that he is comfortable with.

Manuel said he has a schedule for when Utley will and will not play, but it's in his desk and we don't need to see it.

Everyone agrees that the most important thing is for the Phillies to work this out in a way that keeps Utley with the team for the remainder of the season.

"It's not etched in stone," Manuel said of how many days Utley will play consecutively before he will rest. "I think I have good communication with Chase and we are definitely on the same page.

"The biggest thing for me is I want to make sure Chase is here for the rest of the season and that he has a big year.

"That's the most important for Chase, our club and our organization."

Utley is famous for his desire to play, to the point at which he played through obvious pain and possibly came back too soon from previous injuries.

But you get the impression everybody knows this time is different.

"Obviously, you guys know I enjoy playing," Utley said. "It's been disappointing and a little frustrating that I've been on the sidelines not able to help.

"I think we've put a pretty good progression together. Over the past 3 weeks, I've been feeling pretty good. So I think it's time to get between the lines.

"I think at this point I know what to do to stay on top of this. It's still a learning process, but I think we have a good idea of how to handle this." *

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