Cliff Lee and Chase Utley played starring roles in the opening game of the 2009 World Series. This talented duo combined to set the tone for the night, and possibly the series, as they served notice that the only way to the World Champion moniker is through their team. They are the reigning title holders and it is going to take a remarkable effort to wrest it away.
In a city known for drama and theatre, it seems entirely fitting that these two would assert their considerable talents and will to lead the Phillies to a convincing victory on the biggest stage of their careers. Their performances and resulting win was like a double venti serving of Starbucks espresso for a crowd that was almost giddy in anticipation of their beloved team's next accomplishment.
Neither Lee or Utley are unnerved by the tension or distracted by the moment. They both share common traits in the way they go about their business, serving as models and leaders through words and action. They tirelessly prepare for the occasion, so when the television cameras go on, they are unencumbered to do anything other than proceed with the expectation of success.
One player is on the field everyday and the other crosses the white lines every fifth, but both bring the same intense professional precision to the roles they play. Success and winning is the end game, and both demonstrate unwavering concentration and maximum effort in reaching that destination.
Phillies fans and observers around baseball have witnessed and admired Utley's winning attitude and highly professional approach for several years. He is rightfully known as a "gamer", doing whatever it takes to win. If that means taking 26 balls in the ribs to get on base, making opposing hurlers run up their pitch count, running the bases with meticulous abandon, taking out a fielder with a hard slide or any other legitimate mean to give his team the edge, you can count on Utley to do it.
He is a marvelously talented, five tool player, stationed at a position that more typically leans toward defense. Utley's considerable physical abilities, especially coming from a second baseman, make him invaluable and a key element of his team's success, but the intangibles he brings are of equal importance. The mental toughness and great team chemistry that has fueled the Phillies accomplishments over the past few years, clearly trace back to Utley. This is not to say that players such as Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard are not equally important leaders, but although they have many similarities, they also bring a little something different to the equation.
From the first time that Lee took the mound after Ruben Amaro pulled off the tremendous coup of landing him at the trade deadline, it quickly became apparent that the team had added more than last year's AL Cy Young winner. Besides being better than most realized, Lee also brought the same professional, highly driven demeanor that was resident in the team's second baseman. He sprinted to and from the mound, and while he was there, he was all business.
When baseball people talk about a pitcher attacking the strike zone, they are referencing Lee. He works fast, with a laser-like focus on the task at hand. He throws four quality pitches and lives on the edge of the zone, but is not a nibbler. With surgical precision he throws strikes and, at his best, keeps hitters befuddled from start to finish as they never know what's coming or where.
Both Chase Utley and Cliff Lee are "throwbacks." In an age of exploding media coverage and monetary rewards, each is driven by the purest of motives- do whatever it takes to help his team win. Last night we saw remarkable performances from two great players. Who better than them to demonstrate, no matter how talented the opponent or bright the spot light, that the Phillies are tremendously intent on repeating as World Series Champions.