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10/23/08 1:36 AM EST

Utley begins Series career with bang

Phillies star is 34th player to homer in first Fall Classic at-bat

ST. PETERSBURG -- The lefty-on-lefty matchup usually favors the pitcher, but don't tell that to Chase Utley, whose season-long success against southpaw opponents has extended to the playoffs.

Utley, a two-time All-Star, tied for second in the National League during the regular season with 64 hits vs. southpaws. What's more, over the past three seasons, Utley leads all Major League players in hits vs. lefties with 190.

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On Wednesday in Game 1 of the World Series at Tropicana Field, he again got the best of a lefty pitcher, and the timing couldn't have been more perfect. He knocked a two-run shot off left-hander Scott Kazmir in the first inning to put the Phillies up 2-0, which proved to be crucial, considering the Phillies squeaked by with a 3-2 win.

None of this surprises Utley's manager, who hasn't overlooked his second baseman in the respect category, even if Utley doesn't receive the nationwide attention some of his bigger, more powerful teammates do -- namely, Ryan Howard.

"I think that you sit and watch Utley day in and day out, and the way that this guy goes about playing baseball, I think he's one of the best players in the game," Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel said. "And I think any time that he can do good and get national exposure, it's going to help him.

"But you know what? What's amazing about him is he doesn't really care. As long as he gets to play and as long as we win the game, I know that he thinks to himself, his determination, his mindset, I'm going to do good. I know I'm going to do good, because I love to play."

Utley's home run arrived in his first career World Series at-bat, putting him in the company of several other players who have done the same. It was reached by two Red Sox just last year -- Dustin Pedroia in Game 1 and Bobby Kielty in Game 4. To date, 34 players hold the distinction of hitting a homer in their first World Series at-bat.

Six teams have now won Game 1 in the World Series on the road since the Wild Card era began in 1995, including the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies.
1995BravesYankeesYankees in 6
1999YankeesBravesYankees in 4
2002GiantsAngelsAngels in 7
2003MarlinsYankeesMarlins in 6
2006CardinalsTigersCardinals in 5

Yet the home run was especially significant in another way. Utley, who hit .250 with one homer and five RBIs through the first two rounds of the playoffs, has now reached base in 11 consecutive postseason games, dating to 2007. Utley went 0-for-4 in his first career postseason game last year but has reached base safely in every playoff game since.

Utley, not unlike most left-handers who have played in this postseason, was subject to the Rays' shift in which the infielders scoot several feet to the left of where they normally would be positioned. That means the third baseman is more in shortstop territory, while the second baseman is placed somewhere in between first base and second, usually closer to first.

This time, the shift was a non-factor for Utley. He took a 2-2 pitch from Kazmir -- an inside fastball clocked at 92 mph -- and pulled it for a no-doubter that landed several rows up in the right-field stands. The homer was estimated to have traveled 377 feet.

"He's different than most left-handed hitters," Kazmir said. "I would say more have a long swing, they don't really know how to get to an inside fastball too well to a lefty. But him, you can just tell he loves to keep his hands in and he likes that short and quick swing. But I knew just from watching video and games here and there he likes a pitch in. He just gets his hands through the zone."

Utley has now homered in two opening games during the postseason, having also homered against the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

"I try to treat every day the same, whether it's the first day of Spring Training or today," he said. "I feel it's easier on yourself to do it that way. No game is bigger than another game. Obviously, we came out on top today, but now we have to focus on tomorrow. But ... coming up with a few homers obviously feels good."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.