Utley moves up, Lidge happy to be back
Phillies slugger batting second, while closer relishes return
NEW YORK -- National League All-Star manager Clint Hurdle says he doesn't look at OBP or OPS, but rather guts when forming a lineup. That means the Phillies' Chase Utley is moving up in the world.
At the bottom of the order in his first two All-Star Games in 2006 and '07, Utley finds himself No. 2 in the lineup on Hurdle's card. As a competitor in Monday's State Farm Home Run Derby, and now a fixture at second base for the NL, the hard-nosed slugger took solace in his rising status with the league's best.
"That's moving up. It's better than batting ninth," Utley said. "Just being in the All-Star Game is exciting, so I'll try to get on base for whoever is hitting third."
Slugger Ryan Howard wouldn't be joining him. Ace Cole Hamels couldn't, either. His double-play partner, Jimmy Rollins, didn't get the nod. And Pat Burrell, despite a notable first half, didn't win out in the Monster 2008 All-Star Final Vote for a shot on the NL's 32-man squad.
"The more the merrier," Utley said, "but they'll have more opportunities."
Utley received the most votes of any NL player with 3,889,602. He edged out the Brewers' Ryan Braun for the most NL votes, and Utley would have had the most overall if not for the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez. This season, Utley is batting .291 with 25 home runs, 69 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and 25 doubles at the break.
The prospects of batting left-handed in Yankee Stadium also seemed promising as Utley talked about preparing for the Derby. A California native, he would be honored to do something special hitting-wise in the Midsummer Classic itself, as well, immediately after he checks out the monuments at Yankee Stadium before the contest.
"We have a very good squad," Utley said. "We are going out there wanting to win it."
While Utley might have felt somewhat alone, Lidge, in his second All-Star Game, looks forward to reuniting with former Phillie and former Astros teammate Billy Wagner. It's likely between he and Wagner to close the game for the NL, only extending a friendly rivalry that goes back to their years in Houston.
"In between the white lines, we are both pretty crazy in our own way," Lidge said.
When Lidge was dealt to Philadelphia this offseason, Wagner only had one piece of advice for him.
"Keep your mouth shut and just pitch," Wagner told Lidge.
Heading into his second All-Star Game, he has regained the form that earned him the nickname "Lights-Out Lidge." After the move to Philly, he has settled into the closer role and has produced with 20 saves and a 1.13 ERA.
Unlike perennial All-Star Utley, Lidge may appreciate the opportunity to play in the Midsummer Classic a little more because of the struggles he had the past few seasons with the Astros. Lidge said most of his problems in 2006 were linked to a mechanical issue which allowed hitters to pick up on the ball early.
While he wouldn't say he pitched poorly -- Lidge had a 3.36 ERA in 2007 -- he understood that he wasn't getting the save numbers in Houston (19 in 2007) that would keep fans and management content.
Now the Philadelphia fans have accepted Lidge, and he's embraced a move to the Northeast. That shouldn't be surprising, because it got him back to the All-Star Game for the first time since '05.
"It was a goal of mine to get back here," said Lidge, who reveled in the history of Yankee Stadium, "and to pitch in this one would be pretty special."
Jon Blau is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.