Phillies moving on with legendary arms
CINCINNATI -- As the Phillies move on to the next bump in their road to the World Series, it's difficult to envision any opponent being able to crack their vaunted Big Three.
I'm referring to Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, the aces at the top of their heralded rotation.
Hamels made short order of the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday night, twirling a five-hit, 2-0 gem at the Great American Ball Park that gave the Phillies their first franchise sweep in the postseason.
In their three victories over the National League's top offensive team, the Phillies had a no-hitter in Game 1 from Halladay, an airtight bullpen that rescued a rusty Oswalt in the second game and Hamels' clincher.
The Phillies jet back to Philadelphia on Monday, waiting to find out whether San Francisco or Atlanta will be their opponent when the best-of-seven NL Championship Series begins on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park.
By sweeping the Reds, manager Charlie Manuel now has the luxury of having Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels rested and ready for the NLCS. The Giants and Braves, still in a fierce battle, aren't that fortunate.
Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said it's been a long time since a playoff team has had three pitchers that could match the Phillies' Big Three.
"Probably so far back as the Baltimore Orioles, with Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson," he said.
That was in 1971. Each of the Orioles' starters won 20 games, but lost to Pittsburgh in the World Series.
Manuel says the Braves in 1995 with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz quickly come to mind. They took Atlanta to the World Series against Cleveland and won in six games.
"They also had Steve Avery, their fourth guy," said Manuel. "That was a good starting staff. But this staff here, I would say, sits right in there [with them]."
Should the Giants derail the Braves and become the Phillies' opponent, there will be a strong argument that Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Johathan Sanchez are just as formidable.
During the regular season, Cincinnati led the NL in batting average, runs, hits, total bases, home runs, runs batted in and slugging percentage.
Against the Phillies in three games, the Reds managed just 11 hits and four runs and batted just .124.
Great American Ball Park is special for Hamels.
On April 21, 2007, he struck out 15 Reds in the first complete game of his career. He made his Major League debut at the same stadium in 2006.
"This place has always been special because it's where I made my big league debut," he said, refusing to say his victory Sunday night was more meaningful.
"I can't think taking away from my debut because that was definitely a special moment for any kid who plays baseball in the backyard and tries to aspire to become a Major Leaguer. That is always going to be the ultimate moment."
During Sunday's nine-strikeout complete game against the Reds, only two batters reached second base against Hamels -- leadoff batter Drew Stubbs who reached on an infield single and went to second on an infield out. Ramon Hernandez doubled with two out in the seventh.
"Pitching is the key and they threw three excellent pitchers against us," said Baker. "We pitched well today, but Hamels pitched better. This is a tough pill to swallow."
Manuel's take was simple: "When you can throw a shutout like he did, that's big. Consistent pitching will keep you in a lot of games."
When Hamels struck out Scott Rolen to end Sunday's game, there was no wild on-field celebration. It seemed almost typical of a regular-season win.
"When you have that playoff experience and we've been to the World Series the last two years, we know what it takes to get there," said Hamels. "I don't think we want to get too carried away, but we are happy.
"We're going to move on and try to play the best baseball we can and try to win the next four games as fast and as quickly as we can. Our ultimate goal is to win the World Series. That's where we stand."
Halladay, who'll start the first NLCS game, put it this way late Sunday night: "We don't try to do too much, just do our jobs. That's our focus. We've done a lot of good things -- played good defense, scored runs when we had to and played good team baseball. That's the bottom line."
That the Phillies' powerful offense has not shown much in the NLDS could become a factor in the next round.
But the pitching made up for that against the Reds.
"Those three guy go out there and give us an opportunity to win," said Ryan Howard. "They execute our game plan to a T. That's all you can ask of them. Now, we'll sit back, see who we're going to play and get re-focused."
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.