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Chase Utley Gets Last Laugh as Dodgers-Mets Rivalry Intensifies

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMay 29, 2016

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 28:  Chase Utley #26 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates his grand slam in the seventh inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 28, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

It was already clear the New York Mets had beef with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and then Chase Utley happened.

Sorry, that should read Chase Utley happened again.

About seven months have passed since Utley riled the Mets with his takeout slide of Ruben Tejada in last year's National League Division Series, but the latest clash between the Mets and Dodgers at Citi Field is making it feel like it was only yesterday. But try as they might to put him in his place, Utley hasn't let the scorn of those clad in blue and orange get to him.

Despite being mercilessly booed, the veteran second baseman did his best to lift the Dodgers by collecting four RBI in a 6-5 loss in Friday's series opener. And in a 9-1 Dodgers romp Saturday evening, Utley went from nuisance to full-on heel.

His on switch, it would seem, was flipped when Noah Syndergaard said hello with a 99 mph fastball behind Utley's back in the top of the third inning:

A fastball that was more than likely designed to give Utley a bruise instead earned Syndergaard an immediate ejection from home plate umpire Adam Hamari. Syndergaard and Mets skipper Terry Collins were baffled at the quick hook, as was the Twitterverse, where the discussion of whether the hook was too quick could rage for eternity.

But beanball or no beanball, quick hook or properly timed hook, Utley saw fit to reply to the message with a couple of his own. 

His first reply was a solo home run that put the Dodgers up 1-0 in the sixth. An inning later, Utley's second reply came in the form of a grand slam. The highlight of it might as well be punctuated by a sad trombone effect:

MLB @MLB

Chase Utley caps off a huge game with this SLAM. https://t.co/bR4wfHBjqg #PapaSlam https://t.co/P6n5W4Q3a0

With that, Utley ran his RBI count for the game to five, and his RBI count for the series to nine. And he and the Dodgers still have one more game to go.

Think the case of Utley vs. the Mets is now closed? That would be anticlimactic, but it's not impossible.

When the Mets and Dodgers hooked up for the first time in 2016 at Dodger Stadium in early May, the question of whether the Amazins had anything planned for Utley found its way to Collins. He waved it off, telling Marc Carig of Newsday, “I haven’t said a word about anything."

Maybe this was Collins' way of saying, "I can neither confirm nor deny." Or, maybe, he simply had the same mindset as D.J. Short of NBC Sports:

D.J. Short @djshort

I'll say this about the Mets-Utley thing: Shouldn't it have been over before tonight anyway? Mets won NLDS, Tejada not on the team anymore.

As such, it's possible Syndergaard was acting on his own when he threw at Utley. He suggested otherwise after Saturday's game, telling Anthony DiComo of MLB.com the pitch wasn't intentional. But knowing he buzzed Alcides Escobar in last year's World Series, it wouldn't be the first time he took it upon himself to throw a purpose pitch.

Then again, maybe the notion the Mets will now be leaving Utley alone is an exercise in kidding ourselves.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

If Collins wasn't in "I can neither confirm nor deny" mode in speaking about Utley earlier this month, that may be where he was with his comments after Saturday's game.

"I'm not going to say Noah was throwing at him," Collins told reporters, including Joe Trezza of MLB.com. "But there was a time in this game when you had a shot."

If "a shot" can be taken to mean a shot at retaliation, Syndergaard's whiff on hitting Utley may mean the Mets' business with him is still very much unfinished. And if there was a thirst for retaliation after he hurt them last October, it may now be doubly strong after he embarrassed them Saturday.

Even if the Mets don't seek further retaliation against Utley, Saturday's kerfuffle could draw a response from the Dodgers anyway.

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

On the mound for the Dodgers in Sunday evening's series finale will be Clayton Kershaw. He's mainly (and rightfully) known as the best pitcher in the universe, but he's also a guy who's not afraid of going old school in his own right. If he can go to bat for Hanley Ramirez by throwing at Matt Holliday in 2014, maybe he'll feel comfortable going to bat for Utley too.

Either way, a rivalry that already feels heated could become downright flame-roasted on Sunday. The Mets will stoke the fires if they target Utley. The Dodgers will fan the flames if they stick up for Utley.

And if nothing happens, the Dodgers-Mets rivalry isn't terribly likely to end there. Even outside of the Utley factor, it takes a microscope to search for any positive vibes between the Dodgers and Mets. They've been playing nothing but tense baseball ever since they hooked up in last year's NLDS, and the bad vibes may now extend even to the higher levels.

It already feels like ancient history after watching Utley get buzzed and then blow up, but it was only Saturday morning that Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported the Mets had blown the whistle on the Dodgers over their kinda-sorta shady defensive positioning tactics. If these two clubs meet again in the postseason this October, that could loom just as large as anything else.

Add it all up, and Dodgers vs. Mets is beginning to feel like the National League's answer to Toronto Blue Jays vs. Texas Rangers. That rivalry began in last year's postseason and has carried over. The Dodgers and Mets have done the same.

For the time being, it's Utley and the Dodgers who own the rights to the last laugh. But the question now isn't whether it will change hands, but when.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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