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Chase Utley and Dodgers pummel Mets in rivalry's latest skirmish

Chase Utley and Dodgers pummel Mets in rivalry's latest skirmish
The Dodgers' Chase Utley celebrates after hitting a grand slam home run against the Mets in the seventh inning Saturday. (Elsa / Getty Images)

The 99-mph fastball sailed behind the back of Chase Utley and rattled against the backstop. Utley watched it crash behind him. His gaze shifted toward his feet, which cleared dirt in the batter’s box to prepare for the next pitch from New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard. 

“He was unfazed,”Manager Dave Roberts said. 

Utley would not see another pitch from Syndergaard. Umpire Adam Hamari pointed at Syndergaard, flicked his wrist and deemed the third-inning moment a version of retaliation for last October. The ejection infuriated Mets Manager Terry Collins and sent Citi Field into a frenzy. It also set the stage for Utley to quiet the crowd and empty the ballpark in a 9-1 Dodgers victory.

Collins sprinted from his dugout and harangued crew chief Tom Hallion. As Collins raged, Utley held up a hand toward his own bench and instructed the group to remain calm. He had expected an answer from the Mets. The only difference is he expected the baseball to actually make contact.

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Utley reacted in typical fashion. His face betrayed no emotion. His bat spoke for him. Utley hit a solo home run in his next at-bat in the sixth inning, then followed up with a grand slam in the seventh. The last blast left the crowd speechless. The fans filtered toward the exits as the Dodgers hit five home runs in all.

"Chase is amazing," outfielder Trayce Thompson said. "It's seriously amazing. Ice water in his veins. It was amazing to watch."

After the game, Utley refused to gloat or accuse Syndergaard of treachery. He focused his most passionate comments on praise for his own starting pitcher.

Kenta Maeda lasted five scoreless innings after a line drive hit his right hand in the first. After his hand absorbed the blow, Maeda went to the ground. The training staff surrounded him near the mound.

Maeda took a few moments, threw a couple warmup pitches and pronounced himself healthy enough to pitch. The Dodgers practiced precaution with the early hook after 75 pitches. Maeda's hand swelled up, but an X-ray came back negative. He is expected to make his next start.

"It did hurt at the moment of impact," Maeda said through an interpreter. "But I was able to pitch."

Syndergaard had retired Utley in the first inning without incident. Each time Utley came to the plate, the fans roared with disapproval. The distaste stemmed from last year’s National League division series, when Utley broke the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada on a takeout slide. Despised for years in Queens, the play transformed Utley into a supervillain in Gotham.

Syndergaard insisted after the game that the fastball behind Utley's back was an accident. The baseball slipped, Syndergaard told reporters. Hamari disagreed. Hallion told a pool reporter that Hamari felt the pitch warranted ejection because "he intentionally threw at the batter."

Roberts did not object.

"When you've got a guy with plus command, and a ball goes behind a left-handed hitter, about a foot and a half behind him, there's intent there," Roberts said.

Utley was less definitive.

"That's a good question," he said. "Possibly. I understand it."

Mets Manager Terry Collins is ejected by home plate umpire Adam Hamari in the third inning Saturday.
Mets Manager Terry Collins is ejected by home plate umpire Adam Hamari in the third inning Saturday. (Frank Franklin III / Associated Press)

Logan Verrett replaced Syndergaard on the mound. He struck out Utley to finish Syndergaard's at-bat and retired eight of the first nine batters he faced. Then Utley returned to the plate.

"Hit him!" a group of fans screamed. "Hit him!"

Verrett threw a changeup. Utley launched the ball over the wall in center. The volume shrank as Utley rounded the bases.

An inning later, Utley returned with the bases loaded. He tattooed a 93-mph fastball from reliever Hansel Robles. Utley rounded the bases with a stone-faced expression. Inside the dugout, Clayton Kershaw covered his face with hands in giddy shock. The surprise in the rest of the ballpark was less lighthearted.

"I think a loud, energetic environment gets the best out of you," Utley said. "I think it's fun."

Utley initiated a home run bonanza. Howie Kendrick, Adrian Gonzalez and Corey Seager all went deep in the final three innings.

The Dodgers recovered from a walk-off defeat Friday to enter Sunday's game with Kershaw on the mound and an opportunity for a series victory.

Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter: @McCulloughTimes

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