Solving the Utley Problem

Yankees have to limit damage caused by Phillies second baseman

By Josh Alper
|  Wednesday, Nov 4, 2009  |  Updated 1:59 PM EDT
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Solving the Utley Problem

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It was Election Day on Tuesday and a day off in the World Series, but the two events met up in a discussion about whether or not Chase Utley could be voted Series MVP if the Phillies lost. It's a fun debate, but better left to the late innings of a Yankees Game 6 blowout than jumping ahead of what could be two more games with any number of heroes waiting in the wings.

A better debate is how to stop Utley from winning the MVP for a winning Phillies team. Former Yankee pitcher David Wells has been writing a column for the New York Post and uses Wednesday's edition to suggest Andy Pettitte throw a pitch at Utley in the first inning of Game 6. He actually thinks A.J. Burnett should have done it on Monday night, but given Burnett's command issues in that game he might have been trying to do that in the first inning when he threw a fastball right down Broadway that Utley crushed for a 3-0 lead. 

It's not the only way to limit the havoc Utley is wreaking. When you look at the Phillies lineup and see Ryan Howard sitting behind Utley, you have to wonder why Yankees pitchers have been so eager to challenge Utley. Burnett had little choice in the first inning of Game 5 because he'd put the first two runners on base, but Phil Coke should never have given Utley the chance to beat him on a pitch over the middle of the plate. 

Howard has been doing a Pedro Cerrano impression for the entire Series. He's got 12 strikeouts, no clue what to do with a curveball and there's no reason to pitch to Utley when Howard is the other option. Maybe it's not the macho way to approach beating Utley and his gel-soaked coif, but when you're celebrating a World Series win it probably feels just as good.

There's nothing wrong with throwing inside or making a hitter feel a bit uncomfortable, but the second half of Wells' advice is to not give Utley anything good to hit. It essentially boils down to the same approach, just with the addition of "guts" to throw at another player. Wells isn't the best man to be giving lectures on gutsy displays during World Series games, however. You lose that right when you quit after one inning of Game 5 in the 2003 World Series.

Pitching inside should be part of any general approach to getting hitters out, but the Utley problem is one that needs to be sidestepped as much as confronted head on with so much on the line. He's been the guy killing you, so why not make someone else do it?  

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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