If the Philadelphia Phillies had forced a Game Seven of the 2009 World Series, Chase Utley would have had a genuine chance at the Series' Most Valuable Player award. Regardless of whether the Phils' won a second set of rings, Utley's monstrous display probably would've garnered him the honor if nobody from the New York Yankees had an outstanding finish.
As we all saw on Wednesday, Hideki Matsui lived up to even the craziest billings of Godzilla-hype and Philadelphia gave up the ghost in six games. Consequently, the Yanks wore yet another crown, Matsui took home well-deserved MVP honors, and Utley's six games will be remembered as cute footnotes.
What two players share the record for most home runs in a single World Series?
Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley.
Who are the only two left-handed hitters to hit two home runs in a single World Series game off left-handed pitching?
Babe Ruth and Chase Utley.
As cool as those nuggets are, it's a shame they're all that will endure from such a fantastic performance.
With all due respect to Hideki Matsui, who had several good games and one spectacular one, the Phillies' second baseman was the best player in the World Series. That's not to say he was the most valuable—he wasn't. His team didn't win and a player on the victorious side made a good push for the hardware.
One last time—Godzilla was the right choice for World Series MVP.
However, look at what Utley did at the plate in six games: 21 at-bats, seven runs-scored, one double, five homeruns, eight runs batted in, one stolen base, four walks, five strikeouts, a .286 batting average, and a 1.448 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
The OPS looks like something generated by a blue-chip prospect in high school as do the five taters in six games. Other than Matsui, nobody hung with Chase offensively and the first-ever Japanese MVP was merely a designated hitter for three contests while being reduced to a pinch-hitter in the other three.
The pride of the Phillies played six full games and contributed with his leather in addition to his splinter.
Yet, it all came in a losing effort—if the Phils win, everyone is singing Utley's praises for the next week. Shoot, even if the Phightins had come a little closer and the Bronx Bombers had remained a bit more vanilla, his name would echo into the offseason.
But it won't.
That's the way it's been with the 30-year-old perennial All-Star as he's risen to the rank of superstar in Major League Baseball. Which is why, as strange as it is to hear about an admitted-superstar, Utley is underrated.
Chances are, if you don't reside in the City of Brotherly Love or pledge allegiance to its sports teams, you aren't aware that Chase Utley has arguably been the best player not named Albert Pujols in the National League since 2005.
Consider his yearly averages, including the year that saw him take over full-time at the keystone ('05):
Those are incredible numbers before you toss in the fact he plays a premium defensive position and provides thump from the middle of the diamond, something historically rare in the Bigs. Still, they are just numbers.
If you go beneath the stats, you'll find that the 2009 postseason is not the first time Chase Utley has delivered on an expansive, well-illuminated platform.
In 2005, he took over regular duty for Placido Polanco and simply disappeared in a cloud of dust—he finished 13th in NL MVP voting that year. In 2006, he led the Senior Circuit in runs-scored, made his first All-Star appearance, finished seventh in MVP voting, and began to establish himself as a force with which to be reckoned.
Only to be overshadowed by team-mate Ryan Howard's MVP season.
In 2007, despite missing significant time due to an injury suffered on one of Utley's NL-leading 25 hit-by-pitches, Mr. Reliable tallied another superb campaign. He registered an All-Star appearance, an eighth-place finish in the MVP voting, and was upstage by yet another team-mate's MVP season (this time it was Jimmy Rollins).
Finally, on the way to the 2008 World Series, Chase Utley found another gear.
He put together arguably the best year of his glittering career to date, participated in the now-tedious All-Star game, finished 14th in MVP voting, and propelled his team into the Fall Classic by putting together a dominating NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodger.
Of course, the virtually untouchable postseason twirled by Cole Hamels stole all the headlines and absorbed all the spotlight.
Now, 2009 is just one more entry—Utley's scintillating season has been but the backdrop for blustery stories about Cliff Lee's domination or Rollins' verbosity or Howard's prodigious clout. His scorching Classic will be railroaded in favor of the Yankees' 27th championship and Philadelphia's ultimately doomed effort to repeat.
Obviously, there's an element of poor timing at work that's keeping the Southern California native in the shadows a bit. There's something else, too.
If you want to know what, look no further than the telling coverage of this World Series, where so much lip service was paid to guys like Rollins and Pedro Martinez and the other really snazzy interviews. Never have I heard and read so much praise and hype heaped on guys because of their tendency to give a good sound byte.
In the face of a .217 average and 6.30 ERA.
Contrarily, Utley posts terrific numbers while playing the game as if he were the dean of the old school.
He gives max effort day-in and day-out without contributing much to the circus sideshow that revolves around professional athletics in America (and other countries if rumors are true). He just shows up, does his job better than 99 percent of his contemporaries, respectfully answers questions, and then repeats.
For this, his play gets overlooked—the dude had to hit FIVE HOME RUNS IN SIX GAMES to get a word in edgewise. In the World Series.
Chase Utley is a total failure in one aspect—the man is not a self-promoter.
And that only means there's more to appreciate.