PITTSBURGH - Even before yesterday, Roy Halladay could see a difference in the Phillies since Chase Utley rejoined the team. Earlier in the year, the veteran pitcher had compared the second baseman to Yankees captain Derek Jeter, known nearly as much for his professionalism and intangibles as his batting average and on-base percentage. So it didn't take a 3-for-5 day or a tremendous diving play to cement Halladay's respect.
"You know he's always going to run balls out, he'll be diving for balls, he's going to give you the best at-bat every time," Halladay said after he and Utley helped the Phillies snap a four-game losing streak with a 7-3 victory over the Pirates at PNC Park yesterday afternoon.
"He's never going to give an at-bat away. It's his professionalism, the way he goes about things. To be one of the best players and still go about it the right way, like he got called up a couple of days ago, to me that's what stands out. You need guys like that who are successful players who continue to grind things out. It sets a tone."
Utley entered yesterday with just eight hits in 41 at-bats since he returned from the disabled list after a 3-month layoff due to a knee condition. In his last 23 plate appearances, he had reached base just six times.
Yesterday, Utley reached base four times, knocking three singles and drawing a walk while scoring one run. But his biggest play came in the field. With runners on the corners and Halladay trying to protect a 4-2 lead with two outs in the seventh, Utley made a spectacular diving catch of a sharp liner by Jose Tabata to rob the Pirates of at least one run.
"From the overall, everything he brings, I've never been around a guy like him," Halladay said.
Then again, Halladay's teammates say the same things about him, for exactly the reasons he displayed yesterday.
After allowing a two-run homer to Neil Walker in the first inning, he held the Pirates scoreless for the next six innings, exiting the game after the seventh having thrown 114 pitches. He also reached base three times, hitting two singles and scoring a pair of runs. In the sixth inning, he scored from second on a single by Placido Polanco, sliding across home ahead of the throw to give the Phillies a 4-2 lead.
"I was a little worried because I don't think I've slid since high school," said Halladay, who spent a decade in the American League before joining the Phillies last year. "I felt like I got a good jump."
The last time he scored from second on a single?
"I honestly don't think I ever have," he said. "I think it's a first."
Charlie Manuel said afterward he thought his team was fired up, by the four-game losing streak it carried into the game, and by a series of events that did not go their way early on. With runners on first and third in the fourth inning, rookie outfielder Domonic Brown hit a sharp liner that looked destined to go up the middle for an RBI single. It did end up in centerfield, but only after bouncing off second-base umpire Chad Fairchild. By rule, Howard was forced to stay at third, even though he would have scored easily. The umpires correctly ruled that the ball was dead after it struck Fairchild, meaning Brown got first base and moved Carlos Ruiz to second, but Howard stayed at third.
"That's hard to swallow," Manuel said.
Especially since Wilson Valdez proceeded to end the inning with a doubleplay.
"Sometimes I've seen that maybe kill you," Manuel said of the unfortunate play. "But at the same time it kind of [ticks] you off and gets you fired up and you get a little more determined. I think that's kind of what happened to us today. I think we were mad because it happened and it might have helped us."
Halladay appeared to be angry after the first inning, having a heated conversation with plate umpire Angel Hernandez, but he said later that Hernandez initiated the confrontation after mistakenly believing Halladay had cursed at him.
"I didn't say anything," Halladay said. "I was frustrated after the home run. After the inning was over, I yelled a four-letter word to myself. I think he thought it was directed toward him. He came up and said those pitches weren't strikes. I said, 'What pitches?' I didn't really have a chance to explain myself. I think he thought it was directed toward him and took exception to it, which wasn't the case.
"He turned away and started walking away. I was just trying to tell him I had no problem with the pitches he called. I never had a chance to say anything until the next inning. I wasn't going to go after him."
Halladay improved to 8-3 with a 2.56 ERA. The Phillies are now 35-24, three game ahead of the Marlins in the NL East.
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