At some point during the intelligent design of Chase Utley, it must have been decided that this particular life form would be fueled by pure vitriol. For 14 years as a visitor here, he has thrived on it, using it to embrace his role as the perfect villain.
On Saturday night, he endured abuse in the form of guttural boos from Mets fans with long memories. He heard the hiss of a 99-mph fastball of questionable intent that sailed behind his back. He stood quietly as Noah Syndergaard and Terry Collins earned ejections for the crime of frontier justice.
Yet this wasn’t enough for Utley. No, in the Mets’ 9-1 loss to the Dodgers, he had to make something painfully diabolical out of all the hate that flowed toward him. So shortly after the theatrics, he incited an angry mob, hitting a solo homer and a grand slam that left a sellout crowd of 42,227 in a state of stunned submission.
“I think a loud, energizing environment gets the best out of you,” Utley said. “I think it’s fun. We had a lot of games in Philadelphia in the playoffs and guys were into it and it kind of gets the adrenaline going a little bit. And it makes you kind of dig down deeper.”
Citi Field buzzed with nostalgia to honor the fabled 1986 championship team. Then it reverberated at the thought of revenge, although the Mets insisted that this was not the intent.
“I wasn’t trying to take somebody out or inflict any pain on anybody,” Syndergaard said.
The window for retribution appeared to have passed. It has been seven months since Utley’s takeout slide in Game 2 of the NLDS left Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada with a broken leg. But plate umpire Adam Hamari saw a message being delivered. He acted swiftly, leaving Syndergaard “dumbfounded’’ at being tossed.
The 6-6, 240-pound powerhouse showed during last year’s World Series that he is not beyond intimidation. It was his fastball over the head of Alcides Escobar in Game 3 of the World Series that injected some spice into the Fall Classic. But this time there were no boastful declarations about sending messages.
“Tonight was a warm one out there, got a little sweaty, it just got away from me a little bit,” said Syndergaard, whose first-pitch fastball to Utley in the third inning wound up a foot behind the lefthanded hitter.
Syndergaard nonchalantly raised his glove for the return throw and Utley looked down and dug in his spikes. It was as if both were simply going through a customary ritual.
Hamari had not issued warnings. Nevertheless, he immediately tossed Syndergaard, which drew the ire of Collins. Red-faced and exasperated, the manager charged from the dugout and stood nearly chest-to-chest with Hamari, who eventually heard enough and tossed the manager as well.
Later, crew chief Tom Hallion explained the rational behind Syndergaard’s ejection: “Because he threw behind him and we felt it was intentional.”
Suddenly, the comforting blanket of nostalgia had been replaced by the an uneasy dose of testosterone. But for all of the fireworks, the Mets had sabotaged themselves. Syndergaard was finished after 2 1⁄3 innings and 34 pitches. He had lit up the radar gun at 100 mph, and his replacements could not match that firepower. Utley and the Dodgers pounced for five home runs.
The rout began in the sixth, when Utley changed the tenor of what had been a scoreless duel. His solo shot off Logan Verrett came ahead of Yasiel Puig’s run-scoring single.
As if to prove that he has been hard-wired to exert pain, Utley turned the screws even more in the seventh inning. With the bases loaded, he stepped to the plate awash in more boos. A moment later, he returned after rounding the bases on his grand slam.
Utley quietly high-fived his waiting teammates, a fitting celebration that understated the fury that fueled him. Even in the aftermath, he was cool, almost ruthless.
Said Utley: “I think you get satisfaction any time you can help your team win a game.”