May 8, 2016
TORONTO — The ball left the bat, and the manager looked at his shortstop. Maybe Corey Seager would be able to play the soft liner on a bounce. Maybe he would not, and the Dodgers would be in big trouble.
“I was holding my breath,” Dave Roberts said.
From out of the blue came the old man in blue. The second baseman swooped in front of the runner, in front of the bag, and in front of his shortstop.
Chase Utley launched his body into the air, extended his arm to intercept the dying ball, and made the catch that might have saved Sunday’s game for the Dodgers.
“He came out of nowhere,” Howie Kendrick said.
Utley, 37, the oldest position player in the National League West, flashed another example of why the Dodgers signed him last winter, when it appeared his career might be over, on the heels of a .212 season.
He is one hit from batting .300 this season. He reached base three times Sunday, on a single and two walks. He scored the tying run, and he turned in the play of the day in the Dodgers’ 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Whether it’s his baserunning, his glove, his situational at-bats … he does it,” Roberts said. “I can’t say enough about Chase.”
Sunday’s game turned on the eighth inning. The Blue Jays led, 2-1, and they went for the kill.
After the Dodgers put two men on base against setup man Drew Storen — Utley walked and Seager doubled — the Jays summoned closer Roberto Osuna. It might not have been the ninth inning, but the Jays deployed their best reliever against the heart of the Dodgers’ order.
Justin Turner struck out. The Jays intentionally walked Adrian Gonzalez, loading the bases. But Yasmani Grandal delivered a game-tying sacrifice fly, and Kendrick followed with a run-scoring single to put the Dodgers ahead for good.
In the bottom of the inning, the Dodgers went for the kill too. With the tying run on first base and two out, the Dodgers turned to closer Kenley Jansen for a rare four-out save. The Jays had Osuna set up for a six-out save, but Jansen said the Dodgers do not expect that from him.
“I don’t think I’m going to get six,” Jansen said, “even though I know I can do it.”
Jansen faced perhaps the most dangerous Toronto hitter, Jose Bautista. There would not appear to be much need for Jansen to consult scouting reports, since he throws a cut fastball on almost every pitch. However, if he is facing a hitter with whom he is unfamiliar, Jansen says, he watches video of that hitter against Wade Davis, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, to see the strategies of other great relievers.
In this case, Jansen spotted that Bautista might be susceptible to the high fastball.
The first pitch was a ball. The second, a high fastball, fouled back. The third, a head-high fastball, swung on and missed.
The fourth was intended to be high. It was not.
“I wanted it higher,” Jansen said. “Thank God he got jammed.”
Even more fortunately, the Jays had Michael Saunders running from first base. So, as the cut fastball veered inside, Utley broke to cover second base.
Bautista fisted a soft liner. It passed Jansen on his right side, the ball already on the way down. Utley, already running to his right, kept on running — across the bag, in front of Seager — and dived to catch the falling ball.
“I was literally right behind him,” Seager said. “Out of nowhere, he came flying through the air.”
Said Utley: “I saw the ball up for grabs, so I went for it.”
If Utley had not caught the ball, Seager said, he could have played it on a hop and thrown out Bautista. But, as Utley noted, you cannot predict where a dying drive might go once it hits the artificial turf.
“If the ball drops, it’s a tough play for Corey,” Roberts said.
Jansen got the four outs for the save, on 18 pitches, tying his season high. If Bautista had reached base, Jansen might have had to make too many pitches to get that save. That Jansen got the four-out save left Roberts with an appreciation for his closer — but also for Utley.
“He’s just so heady,” Roberts said. “He’s always in the right spot, selling out.”