NEW YORK —The Mets wanted to get the last word. Chase Utley had the last laugh.
On Saturday night, in front of a sellout crowd of boisterous, angry fans at Citi Field, Utley continued to be a thorn in New York’s side six months after his aggressive slide into second base during Game 2 of last year’s NLDS between these teams broke Ruben Tejada’s leg. In three consecutive at-bats, the Dodgers’ second baseman delivered the game’s three biggest blows to the Mets, getting Noah Syndergaard thrown out of the game after the New York hurler threw behind him, then bashing two homers and driving in five to lead Los Angeles to a 9–1 win.
“Baseball’s a crazy game, and you never know what to expect,” Utley said. “We played well, came together as a group. We battled. It was a good win”
Ever since Utley snapped Tejada’s tibia by barreling into the then-Mets shortstop while trying to break up a double play last October, he has become Public Enemy No. 1 in Queens. He did little to diminish the fans’ hatred in the series opener on Friday night, when his three-run double in the top of the ninth helped erase a 5–1 Mets lead. But for all the drama that he created and perpetuated, Utley had avoided any direct retaliation. A series between the two teams in Los Angeles two weeks ago featured no fireworks, and neither Mets starter Jacob deGrom nor any of New York’s relievers made any attempt to hit him on Friday.
Saturday’s game, however, held the likeliest chance of the Mets getting even: Syndergaard, after all, was the pitcher who infamously threw up and in on Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar to lead off Game 3 of the World Series last year, then said after the game that if Kansas City’s hitters had an issue with his pitch, they could “meet me sixty feet, six inches away.” But in Utley’s first at-bat on Saturday, Syndergaard avoided any trouble, with the Mets’ imposing righty striking out the veteran infielder looking on 100-mph heat. As Utley walked back to the dugout to a chorus of cheers, it seemed as if the Mets had decided that the best revenge was making Utley insignificant.
That all changed in the third. With Utley at the plate and one out, no one on and no score, Syndergaard fired his first pitch of the at-bat—a 99-mph four-seam fastball—directly behind the second baseman’s back. The Citi Field crowd roared in approval, but before Utley could even step back into the box, home plate umpire Adam Hamari ejected Syndergaard, who was followed to the clubhouse shortly thereafter by an enraged Terry Collins. A wave of boos met Hamari’s decision to boot Syndergaard, and as Collins screamed and argued, the fans let the umpire hear their displeasure for minutes on end.
“Nobody got hit, [Hamari] made an assumption, and I disagreed,” Collins said in his postgame press conference. “I’m not going to sit here and say Noah threw at [Utley], but nothing happened.”
Syndergaard also professed innocence afterward, repeatedly stating that the pitch behind Utley “simply got away from me.” That much could be expected, as Syndergaard would never admit to throwing at Utley intentionally. The umpiring crew felt otherwise. “With what happened in that situation, we felt the ejection was warranted,” crew chief Tom Hallion said.
The ejection itself came as a surprise to Utley and the Mets. Hallion and Collins said no warnings had been issued to either team before the game or series, and Syndergaard said that he thought a warning would have made more sense than being tossed. Utley, meanwhile, said that he had no issue with the pitch, only remarking that he believed it was “possibly” intentional. “We have a tough enough job trying to get the job done, so the last thing we want to be is umpires,” he added.
With Syndergaard gone, the Mets brought on long reliever Logan Verrett, who finished the at-bat by striking out Utley to the loudest cheers of the night and then kept scoreless pace with Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda through the fifth. In the top of the sixth, however, Verrett got his own personal reason to hate Utley. Leading off the inning once more, Utley took a first-pitch changeup and deposited it in the seats in right-centerfield. The solo bomb put the Dodgers on top, 1–0, and prompted another deafening salvo of boos as he rounded the bases.
Utley wasn’t done, however. The very next inning, he strode to the plate to face righthanded reliever Hansel Robles with the bases loaded and one out, then took a fastball and again found his familiar spot in right-center for a grand slam to make it 6–0. Stunned Mets fans managed some boos and cursing, but for the most part, his second home run of the night left them silently wondering how one man could be responsible for so much pain.
“I think you have satisfaction any time you can help your team win a game,” Utley said when asked if he took any special joy out of his two homers. And if he felt any happiness or a sense of satisfaction, it didn’t show in his postgame demeanor, as he answered questions stone-faced and with his voice barely breaking a whisper.
Despite the circus atmosphere around his at-bats, Utley personally demolishing the Mets is nothing new. Saturday’s two home runs gave him 38 in his career against New York—his highest total against any team in his 14 seasons. It was perhaps fitting, then, that on the night the franchise exuberantly celebrated its 1986 World Series championship team, Utley was there to spoil the party.
“I think a loud, energizing environment gets the best out of you. I think it’s fun,” Utley said. “I’ve played a lot of games [in New York] over the course of my career, and the fans have always been into it. It makes for a better baseball atmosphere.”
Utley will likely get a few more chances to drive Mets fans crazy on Sunday as the Dodgers finish their three-game set in New York with ace Clayton Kershaw on the mound. Whether he will finally get the fastball to the back or ribs that the Mets believe he has earned is unknown. But if Saturday proves anything, it would probably be a wiser course for New York simply to leave him be.