The Los Angeles Dodgers open the 2016 National League Championship Series with three members of the Philadelphia Phillies 2008 champs playing key roles.
That team would go on to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays in five games to win just the second World Series crown in what was then 126 seasons of Phillies baseball.
Three key players on the team that dispatched the Dodgers and won it all in that fall of 2008 are now playing different, but no less important roles for Los Angeles as the NLCS opens on Saturday night at Wrigley Field.
Chase Utley was a 29-year-old superstar second baseman, the best in the game at the position, back in the 2008 season.
That year in the midst of his prime as a player, Utley hit for a .292/.380/.535 slash line with 33 home runs, 104 RBI, 113 runs scored, 41 doubles and 14 stolen bases.
Nicknamed “The Man” by legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas for his hustling style of play, Utley was named to the National League All-Star team for a fourth of five consecutive seasons.
He also won the third of four straight Silver Slugger Awards for his work in the 2008 Phillies season, and received MVP votes for a fourth of five consecutive seasons.
Carlos Ruiz was also 29 years old, and was in his second season as the primary catcher for the Fightin’ Phils.
Nicknamed “Chooch”, he wasn’t much with the bat back then, but Ruiz was quickly developing a relationship for his strong handling of the pitching staff.
Joe Blanton was a 27-year-old relative newcomer to that pitching staff, having been obtained in a deal with the Oakland A’s just two weeks prior to the non-waiver trade deadline.
Blanton provided solid work at the back of the Phillies rotation following the deal, going 4-0 over 13 starts while allowing 66 hits over 70.2 innings.
He started Game 4 of that NLCS against the Dodgers, going five innings and allowing three earned runs in a pivotal game that the Phils would win 7-5 with an eighth inning rally.
Blanton also got a start in the 2009 NLCS against the Dodgers, again in Game 4, a game that the Phillies would win with a thrilling walk-off double by Jimmy Rollins.
Utley hit .353 in the 2008 NLCS versus Los Angeles with four runs scored. He crushed a huge sixth inning home run off Derek Lowe that tied the series opener at 2-2 in a game that the Phils would go on to win by 3-2.
Ruiz hit .313 in that 2008 NLCS. His RBI double in the bottom of the second of Game 2 sparked a four-run rally that led to an 8-5 Phillies victory and a 2-0 lead in the series.
Flash forward eight years, and all three men find themselves wearing Dodger blue. Utley came to L.A. on August 19 of last season after clearing waivers.
Ruiz was similarly dealt to the Dodgers this August 25. Blanton traveled a far more circuitous route, though he was also traded to the Dodgers by the Phillies back in August of 2012.
Blanton went just 2-4 over 10 starts for those 2012 Dodgers, who finished eight games behind the arch-rival San Francisco Giants thanks to a collapse that lasted a full month from mid-August through mid-September.
A free agent that offseason, Blanton signed on with the crosstown Los Angeles Angels, lasting one horrendous season with the Halos.
Out of baseball for the 2014 season, Blanton suddenly resurfaced in 2015 with first the Kansas City Royals and then the Pittsburgh Pirates, beginning to reinvent himself as a relief pitcher.
This year, the Dodgers signed him as a free agent back in mid-January, hoping to maybe catch lightning in a bottle with him as a relief pitcher.
Blanton indeed has supplied that lightning. He pitched in 75 games as a vital member of the Dodgers bullpen this season, going 7-2 with a 2.48 ERA. He allowed just 55 hits over 80 innings pitched with an 80/26 K:BB ratio.
At age 37, Utley had 565 plate appearances for the Dodgers, his second-most over the last seven seasons.
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While he hit for just a .252/.319/.396 slash line with 14 homers, 52 RBI and 79 runs scored, Utley provided a steady veteran presence and particularly worked well with rookie shortstop Corey Seager.
Ruiz got into 14 games down the stretch following the trade. Over 40 plate appearances, Chooch hit for a .278 average, had a .350 on-base percentage and continued to provide solid work as a backup to starting catcher Yasmani Grandal.
In the just completed NLDS victory over the Washington Nationals, all three former Phillies showed their postseason chops by coming up big for the Dodgers.
In Game 4, the Dodgers tied the series up at 2-2, with Utley supplying the game-winning run in a 6-5 victory with an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning, and a fabulous glove-flip play on a grounder by Bryce Harper to end the game.
In the Dodgers’ 4-3 series-clinching victory in Game 5 at Nationals Park, Ruiz drilled the go-ahead single in the top of the seventh inning of a 1-1 ball game.
Meanwhile, all Blanton did was continue his incredible rebirth out of the pen. Pitching in four of the five NLDS games, the right-hander allowed just one hit and walked one batter over five shutout innings.
If the Dodgers are going to upset the 103-win Cubs in this National League Championship Series, there is a very strong chance that their veterans will play a pivotal role.
The 2008 World Series rings won by the trio of Utley, Ruiz and Blanton, and more importantly the October experiences of those players who once celebrated in red pinstripes at Citizens Bank Park, would likely be a big part of such an upset.