Cole Hamels, Phillies finish off Reds, 2-0, to advance to National League Championship Series
Monday, October 11, 2010; 12:23 AM
CINCINNATI - The presumptive Cy Young winner threw a no-hitter for them in Game 1. Their unrelenting lineup, the one that boasts two former most valuable players, bailed them out of Game 2. So naturally, for Game 3 of the National League Division Series, the Philadelphia Phillies handed the ball to Cole Hamels, the 2008 World Series MVP.
These Phillies are not just the favorite to win the 2010 World Series. They are an embarrassment of riches, a fact made solemnly clear as they dispatched the Cincinnati Reds from the playoffs with a 2-0 victory at Great American Ball Park that completed a first-round sweep. Hamels pitched a five-hit shutout in a performance that recalled his brilliance in fall of 2008, a start, at times, nearly as dominant as Roy Halladay's historic playoff debut.
With Hamels's rebound from the personal horrors of last October complete, the Phillies have the potential to become as dominant a playoff force as has existed in recent memory. They are four wins from becoming the first team to win three straight National League pennants since the St. Louis Cardinals from 1942 to 1944. It may not be too soon to wonder if they can match the 1999 Yankees in losing only one game during a World Series run.
Afterward, in a champagne-soaked clubhouse, the Phillies celebrated their third straight trip to the National League Championship Series, their previous deeds creating a familiar, even unfulfilled feeling.
"We haven't really accomplished anything," first baseman Ryan Howard said. "This is just a step to get to where we want to be."
Given their abundance of aces, who's going to stop them from getting there? Reds Manager Dusty Baker compared Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hamels to the Baltimore Orioles pitching staff of the early 1970s. Phillies closer Brad Lidge, with a can of beer in his hand in the visiting clubhouse, said it was the best pitching staff he has ever seen. "That's not reaching," right fielder Jayson Werth said. "It's pretty fair to say."
Sunday night belonged to Hamels. A stadium record 44,599 packed Great American Ball Park, waving white towels and screaming until the final out. Once the game started, Hamels quashed any reason for optimism.
Hamels struck out nine and threw 82 of his 119 pitches for strikes. He surrendered no walks and only five hits, four of which were singles. All of the singles were ground balls, and two hit an infielder's glove. Only two runners made it to second base, and none made it past. Through six innings, Hamels had used 61 pitches - the same number Halladay needed through six during his no-hitter.
Hamels nailed the corners with 96-mph fastballs and forced swings with a mid-80s changeup that made the lunging Reds look like novices in a Pilates class. His fastball and changeup were so effective, Hamels hardly needed his sweeping breaking ball. The Reds swung and missed 12 times at his changeup alone.
"He reminds me a lot of how he was in '08," Werth said. "He was really nasty."
Late in the night, Baker fired his final bullet and brought into the game Aroldis Chapman to pitch the ninth inning. Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel allowed Hamels, sitting on 106 pitches, to bat against him. He flied to deep left-center on a 101-mph fastball. And then trotted back out to the mound for one more inning, the last inning.
"It's special any time you can finish a game," Hamels said.