Chase Utley: The 2010 NLCS And How He May Have Saved the Giants


Chase Utley is no stranger to controversy, as evidenced by the latest storm he’s caused as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. In Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the New York Mets, Utley tackled shortstop Ruben Tejada, breaking his leg in the process.

More from Golden Gate Sports

Any Dodger is a natural enemy to San Francisco Giants fans, but Utley holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the Orange and Black. Though, Giants fans should thank the veteran second baseman because without his antics in the 2010 National League Championship Series, who knows if the Giants would have gone on to win one — let alone three — World Championships.

During the peak of their short-lived yet intense rivalry, the Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies were two heavyweights fighting for supremacy in the National League. The only thing standing in the way of the Phillies reaching their third straight Fall Classic was the fresh-faced Giants squad.

For the most part, the teams were evenly matched. Toting top-notch pitching staffs, four of the six games in the NLCS were decided by two runs or less. After staving off elimination by defeating Giants’ ace Tim Lincecum, the Phillies returned home with a chance to defend their home field.

With a chance to go to their first World Series in eight years, the Giants sent the enigma that was Jonathan Sanchez to the mound. When it was all working, Sanchez was one of the most unhittable pitchers in all of baseball — and on one night, he was.

The lefty just had nasty stuff. But other times, Sanchez couldn’t find the strike zone. Then the mental aspect overpowered the physical ability and Sanchez just couldn’t pitch out of a funk.

More from San Francisco Giants

Sanchez struggled right out of the gate, giving up two runs in the first inning with no resistance. He walked Placido Polanco who advanced to second on a wild pitch. Utley would then knock him in with an RBI double and later score himself on a sacrifice fly.

The second inning was easier, as he retired the Phillies in order. The third inning, however, became one of the most crucial points in the establishing the Giants’ dynasty. Sanchez had lost control. After issuing a walk to Polanco, Sanchez once again faced Utley out of the stretch. Sanchez fell behind in the count 2-0 and with the third pitch in the at bat, hit the second baseman right on the back.

Oct 10, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) collides with Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley (26) at second base during the seventh inning in game two of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Now under even more pressure and visibly frustrated, Sanchez waited for a new ball from the home plate umpire. Meanwhile, Utley ran up the first base line to take his base and, as he left the batter’s box, picked up the ball which had taken a big bounce up the line and tossed it back at Sanchez. The pitcher took exception to it and said some words to Utley who dismissed Sanchez’s anger.

The benches cleared and both bullpens poured in from the outfield. Everyone except Jeremy Affeldt. Bullpen coach Mark Gardner would not let him join the scrum. After the dust settled, Bruce Bochy made the executive decision that Sanchez was no longer fit to be in the game. Affeldt came in, dealt, and the rest is history.

Imagine if Utley hadn’t thrown the ball back at Sanchez. He surely would have faced at least one or two more batters before Affleldt — or any other reliever — who would have been warmed up enough to come into the game. Sanchez couldn’t find the strike zone and was starting to let the emotions of the moment get the best of him, as he so often did.

Who knows what would have happened. Perhaps the Giants would have  still managed to rally and win the game in dramatic fashion. Or maybe the deficit would have grown past the point of a comeback. Momentum surely would have shifted back in the Phillies’ favor who would have had the opportunity to finish off the young Giants in Game Seven at home with Cole Hamels on the mound.

But it’s safe to say that Chase Utley’s pride and “toughness” inadvertently propelled Jeremy Affeldt, Bruce Bochy, and the rest of the Giants into the clutch postseason performers that we now know them to be.

Perhaps the Mets, on the brink of advancing to the NLCS, can turn Utley’s recklessness into something positive.

Next: Giants Have Their Offseason Priorities Right