It wasn't the way Chase Utley's first-inning double one-hopped off the fence near the deepest part of center field that pleased Charlie Manuel the most. The hit was simply the end result.
Before just about everyone else at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday had the chance to look up and admire Utley's drive, Manuel was looking down at the second baseman's feet to check out his stride. If it was still too quick, then Utley was not all the way back from the long hiatus forced by the problems with his right knee.
But it wasn't. Utley's stride was just so, and from the Phillies' perspective, that was the most encouraging news to come out of the 7-1 win over the Cubs.
"His stride had been a little too quick," Manuel said after Utley doubled, homered, and drove in four runs, matching his RBI total in the 16 games since he rejoined the club following a rigorous rehabilitation process to strengthen his knee. "Especially on his front side against slow stuff, secondary stuff. He's starting to do what I call slow feet and quick hands, like when he drove the ball his first time up. That was a good sign."
For the first time since his season began May 23, after he missed spring training and played a few games with single-A Clearwater, the complete Chase Utley was on display.
It turned out Utley's two-run double was all Cliff Lee would need as the lefthander allowed only four hits and one run over eight innings for his sixth win. Utley also advanced Shane Victorino to third by grounding the ball to the right side of the infield in the seventh, and Victorino scored on Ryan Howard's single to make it 4-1. His homer in the eighth was drilled. For now, at least, it alleviated some concern that his power has been diminished by his knee condition.
In case you haven't noticed, the Phillies have been starving for runs. They had scored three or fewer runs in eight of the 10 games they'd played prior to Saturday, and six of them were losses. They are 26-3 when they score four or more runs. How badly do they need production from Utley? Hello!
"He's a big part of our offense, a big part of our team, period," said Lee, who has won each of his last four starts at Citizens Bank Park with a 1.59 ERA. "To have him back and see him swing the bat the way he did today was huge. He's our three-hole hitter, and you need that guy to be productive. He's an unbelievable player. He works as hard as anyone and spends as much time in here [the clubhouse] as anyone. I expect him to get on a roll and continue to do what he does."
The most difficulty Lee faced had nothing to do with the Cubs. It was the 32-minute delay to the start of the game because of a downpour. Lee had finished his warm-up and was preparing to throw the first pitch when the rain began. He was not happy, but he said he would have been ready to go regardless of the length of the delay.
"I just made sure I kept my body warm and went out there to pitch," he said. "At that point I feel I can wait a couple hours and pitch. I had already worked up a sweat. I kept my arm wrapped up and my body hot."
Lee faced the minimum number of batters in five of the eight innings before Antonio Bastardo closed the game with a clean ninth. It got shaky for Lee only in the third, after he walked the Cubs' impressive young shortstop, Starlin Castro, with two outs. Two singles later, Castro scored, but Lee went on to take command of the game.
In his last two starts covering 15 innings, Lee has given up one run, which could be a prelude to one of those long stretches of dominance that have characterized much of his career.
"Sometimes you get locked in when things roll well, and I hope I'm getting into that," he said. "But there's always something to improve on. I'm never content. I'll continue to work hard between starts, and if I do that I think I'll be successful."