Utley and Burrell homered off tiring Derek Lowe in the sixth inning to back a strong performance by Cole Hamels, and the Philadelphia Phillies were a winner in their return to the NL championship series, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Thursday night.
“They have been pitching us tough, trying to not let us do too much damage,” Utley said. “That’s the game plan for a lot of teams, but we have eight guys, sometimes nine, that can swing the bats.”
Ramirez put the Dodgers ahead with a long RBI double in the first, just missing a two-run homer. But the Phillies’ big bats answered in the sixth, when Burrell hit a go-ahead solo homer after Utley’s two-run drive tied it.
The Phillies played their first NLCS game since clinching the pennant in Game 6 against Atlanta at old Veterans Stadium on Oct. 13, 1993. They’re seeking their second World Series title (first was in 1980) in the franchise’s 126-year history.
When Burrell lined a 3-1 pitch into the left-field stands for a 3-2 lead, the sellout crowd of 45,839 went into a frenzy.
“It was definitely intense out there,” Utley said. “It gave us that little extra Adrenalin.”
A lower back injury nearly sidelined Burrell in the first round against Milwaukee, and he almost got benched after going 0-for-8 in the first three games. But manager Charlie Manuel kept Burrell in the lineup, and he responded with two homers and four RBIs in the clinching win over the Brewers.
“Right now he’s staying back behind the ball and driving the ball,” Manuel said.
Hamels settled down after the first and wound up allowing two runs and six hits, striking out eight.
“Cole pitched outstanding,” Utley said. “He gave up a few early runs, but after that he kind of kept them off the bases and limited the damage.”
Lowe had cruised through the first five innings, allowing just four singles, but the right-hander with the hard sinker couldn’t make it out of the sixth.
Speedy Shane Victorino reached second base leading off on shortstop Rafael Furcal’s throwing error. Utley ripped the next pitch into the seats in right-center for his first postseason homer in 29 at-bats, tying it at 2.
“It was up, but it wasn’t that bad a pitch,” Utley said.
Utley grew up a Dodgers fan and attended Game 2 of the 1988 World Series. He was drafted by his hometown team out of high school in 1997 but chose to go to UCLA and ended up being Philadelphia’s first-round pick in 2000.
One out after Utley connected, Burrell circled the bases as Lowe looked up at the fireworks going off beyond the swinging replica Liberty Bell that hangs beyond the outfield stands. Then the pitcher waited for manager Joe Torre to walk to the mound. Burrell high-fived teammates and got a curtain call from long-suffering fans, who waited 15 years to see the Phillies return to the NLCS.
Burrell is in the final season of a $50 million, six-year contract and it’s uncertain whether the Phillies will bring him back. The way he’s swinging now, he won’t have a hard time finding a home.
“It feels great, but you can’t get too caught up in this,” Burrell said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Los Angeles took a 1-0 lead in the first off Hamels, who tossed eight shutout innings against Milwaukee in Game 1 of the division series.
Andre Ethier hit a one-out double. With first base open, Manuel chose to let Hamels pitch to Ramirez. The slugger made the Phillies pay, hitting an RBI double high off the 19-foot wall just left of straightaway center.
“I guess that’s the furthest ball that anyone can hit and not be out of the yard,” Hamels said.
Ramirez, whose 68 postseason RBIs are second only to Bernie Williams’ 80, was 2-for-4. When Ramirez came to the plate as the tying run with one out in the eighth, Manuel jogged out to chat with Madson in a rare strategy session with nobody on base. Whatever he said, it worked. Ramirez lined out to third base.
“I wanted to make sure we knew how to pitch him,” Manuel said.
Blake DeWitt’s sacrifice fly in the fourth made it 2-0. Matt Kemp led off the inning with a looping ground-rule double down the right-field line. Kemp advanced to third on Casey Blake’s grounder to shortstop and scored on DeWitt’s fly to center.
Lowe’s sinker was so sharp early on that he even got Jayson Werth to ground into his third double-play in 786 plate appearances since joining the Phillies last year.
Right from the start, fans waved their white-and-red “Fightin’ Phils” towels and screamed “Beat LA,” a chant first made popular by Boston fans as the Philadelphia 76ers were finishing off the Celtics to advance to the 1983 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“First game is definitely important,” Manuel said. “But you still have to win four games.”
It’s the fourth time in 31 years that the Dodgers and Phillies meet in the NLCS. The Dodgers beat the Phillies in 1977 and 1978. The Phillies won in ’83. … Dodgers 3B coach Larry Bowa, who managed the Phillies and played shortstop for the 1980 championship team, received a nice ovation in pregame introductions.