In what might be his last at-bat in Citizens Bank Park, Chase Utley drove a pop fly into left field. The six-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger, 2008 World Series champion and former Phillies great watched the ball sail into the extended glove of left fielder Rhys Hoskins to end the sixth inning Wednesday.
Utley would be replaced in the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup by manager Dave Roberts. He wouldn’t return.
What Utley has meant to Philadelphia fans cannot be understated. There’s an understanding between both parties. The way in which fans came out in masses to see the Phillies play this week isn’t something the team is used to, even when standing in first place in the National League East at 57-44.
They were there to show their appreciation to Utley and, in a calculated move, he was the one who put them there.
“I’ve been thinking about [retiring] for a while now and trying to figure out how I wanted to go out and I thought it was important to let the Philadelphia Phillies fans know that this is going to be the last time that I’m going to have a chance to play in this ballpark,” Utley said. “It was a huge factor in the timing of the announcement.”
Each moment was different.
On Monday, Chase Utley was granted the starting nod. Coming out to his familiar “Kashmir” walk-up music by Led Zeppelin, Utley received a minute-long standing ovation from fans in attendance.
Tuesday, fans were upset when they showed up in the rain to see that Utley was out of the lineup card as a sub. Fans were outraged when late in the game, Roberts opted to use Matt Kemp as a sub over Utley. But in the 12th inning in a 4-4 tie, Utley finally came in to pinch-hit to yet another standing ovation.
Utley drilled what could be his final hit in Philadelphia through the left infield hole for a single. Despite being in a pennant race against a heated rival, fans gave out a loud roar in favor of the opposition.
And finally, there was Wednesday. After taking a seat on the bench to finish the game, Phillies owner John Middleton approached Utley in the Dodgers dugout following the game. He wanted fans to enjoy one final moment. Utley rose from the dugout and gave the fans a curtain call like he had done many times in a Phillies uniform. And like that, ‘The Man’ was gone.
“It was surreal,” Utley said. “I’ve said it over and over again but I can’t thank the fans enough for the amount of support they showed me. Not only for this series but when I played here in Philadelphia. One thing I’m happy about is that I got to thank them in person. I hope they understand how important they are to me.”
Phillies players were also impressed with the fan response for Utley, including Hoskins.
“[The ovations he got] for me as a player on the field, I think it’s pretty cool,” Hoskins said. “It speaks to the passion of this city and what this city values in a baseball player. I don’t think that happens if Chase isn’t Chase. He played the only way he knew how to play.”
Utley will step away from the game of baseball after the season. Whether or not this season includes a playoff matchup for the Phillies against the Dodgers isn’t yet known.
But what’s clear, is that this city won’t soon forget about Chase Utley. He’s forever a hero in this town.