NEW YORK – Jimmy Rollins limped out of the Philadelphia Phillies' crowded clubhouse, up a set of stairs, down a one-person-wide hallway and into an alcove that better accommodated the kind of attention he draws here. His head lilted forward and his shoulders slumped and he wore the look of a man beaten down by a long day until someone asked about ruining the New York Mets' final Opening Day at Shea Stadium.
And just like that, Rollins' head snapped to, his posture straightened and he adopted the goofy countenance of a post-snack Scooby-Doo.
"It felt good," Rollins said.
Simple and succinct – pretty much the antithesis of Rollins, the mightiest mite with the mouthiest mouth. The reigning National League MVP's Phillies throttled division-favorite New York 5-2 Tuesday in its home opener, the ninth consecutive Philadelphia victory against the Mets dating back to last season's come-from-way-behind NL East title.
Rollins delivered a pair of hits, including an RBI single for an insurance run in the eighth inning, before leaving with a sprained ankle. Ceding the stage isn't his style, though in this case it was deserved.
Chase Utley, the Phillies' second baseman, tied a major-league record when Mets pitchers hit him three times. And then he set an unofficial mark – not to mention helped win the game – when he was plunked again.
Down 2-0 in the seventh inning, the Phillies loaded the bases and sent cleanup hitter Ryan Howard to the plate. Mets manager Willie Randolph wore a forlorn face in his dugout. Having presided over last season's meltdown, he was well familiar with such situations, and the thought surely crossed his mind why he had removed starter Oliver Perez after 5 2/3 scoreless innings and only 94 pitches.
Howard hit a ground ball to first baseman Carlos Delgado. Perfect double-play opportunity. Delgado wheeled toward second base, unfurled a throw and gave Utley his fourth donk of the day. It took two superlatives: the most flush, a dead-on shot near his right shoulder, and the most memorable, because the ball caromed into right field, allowing two runs to score and setting up Jayson Werth's RBI single that scored Utley and gave Philadelphia a 3-2 lead.
"That was the best one of all," Utley said.
In his potential record-setting at-bat in the eighth inning, Utley was an utter failure at getting hit and instead settled for an RBI double that sunk the Mets.
They slogged off the field disappointed in their performance in front of 56,350, the largest home-opening crowd since Shea opened in 1964. While they've got 17 games remaining against the Phillies for vengeance, this one was big, especially after Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran called the Mets the favorites in the East during spring training.
Big words can lead to retaliation and brawling, and had someone before the game said Utley would get hit three times, the odds of such shenanigans would have been, oh, 1-to-10. The first two grazed Utley's uniform, and the third simply got away from pitcher Scott Schoeneweis.
"I thought I'd have been the one getting hit," Rollins said.
Center fielder Shane Victorino intoned otherwise: "Chase always finds a way to get hit."
True enough. Utley led the NL in hit by pitches last season with 25, and he didn't seem terribly keen in avoiding the jersey-clippers from Perez.
"You don't want to try to get out of the way too often," Utley said. "As long as it's not going to hurt too bad."
The precedent is there. Last season, Utley's MVP candidacy was derailed by a broken hand when a pitch hit him. He leans over the plate almost as though he's trusting gravity to keep him standing, and Tuesday, it behooved him.
And, of course, the Phillies. After the game, they sat around and chatted as though they'd done nothing special. Beating the Mets is old hat, and even if they won't admit it – they know better now, even Rollins, than to talk too much – they're deep in the Mets' medulla oblongata, festering like an aneurysm.
"We got a break and ran with it," Rollins said. "That's usually how rallies start: Somebody makes a mistake. … They made a mistake to open up the door and we found a way to crack it open."
Rollins grinned again. He wanted to say more. But he didn't have to.