CINCINNATI - The game and series ended with Cole Hamels on the mound, appropriate on so many levels. The Phillies celebrated the first postseason sweep in franchise history - clinched in a 2-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday night - by crowding around Hamels.
"Cole deserves this," champagne-soaked pitching coach Rich Dubee said in the clubhouse. "If there's a guy who deserves to be standing out there when we clinch it, it's Cole. His record doesn't show it, but this guy has come such a long ways as far as his mental toughness. He's starting to evolve into a monster."
The lanky lefthander represented everything good about the 2008 championship season. His struggles in 2009 were maddening, and so was the endgame for the Phillies.
On Sunday, when Scott Rolen swung and missed at Hamels' 119th pitch of the night, a 95-m.p.h. fastball, the pitcher modestly pumped his fist. There was no raucous celebration. This was just the fulfillment of expectations.
Now they wait. The Phillies' next game won't come for six days. Game 1 of the National League Championship Series will be Saturday at Citizens Bank Park against the Giants or Braves.
The Phillies won three games in five days and had just four extra-base hits in three games. The Reds made seven errors. Cincinnati had just 11 hits, tying a new low in a division series.
The Big Three certainly passed their first postseason test. Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter. Roy Oswalt was shaky but didn't let the game unravel even without his best stuff. And not to be forgotten was Hamels, arguably the team's best starter during the second half of the season.
But when he took the mound Sunday, it had been 20 days since he had pitched more than four innings in a game. And although Hamels had been so good during October 2008, he had failed to pitch beyond 51/3 innings last postseason. In four 2009 playoff starts, he had a 7.58 ERA.
His fastball was sharp Sunday. He relied heavily on it. But the most important pitch of the night was a change-up to Joey Votto, the presumptive National League MVP. Votto represented the tying run with one out in the ninth.
Hamels wanted the ball on the outside corner. He had been pitching Votto inside all night, but in the final at-bat, he stayed away. The change-up was designed to catch the outside corner. It went right where Hamels wanted it.
"It did," he said. "It probably was the only one to him that did."
Both Dubee and manager Charlie Manuel said it had been Hamels' game all the way. After the eighth inning, the pitching coach discussed options with Manuel. It was an easy choice.
"He could have thrown another two innings the way he was throwing out there," Brad Lidge said. "It's amazing."
"He was locked in, man," Halladay said.
Through six innings, Hamels allowed just three hits - and two went off infielders' gloves. He featured mostly just a fastball (sometimes using his two-seam cutter) and change-up. Those were the two pitches that made him a star in 2008 at age 24. He was the MVP of the World Series that year, and the Phillies are four wins away from reaching that stage for the third straight season.
In the seventh, Hamels started to lose some life on his fastball. He allowed a double to Ramon Hernandez. Jonny Gomes and Jay Bruce made solid contact, but both made deep outs. Hamels navigated the eighth using just 11 pitches.
He said the extra time off had benefited him, especially when it came to his fastball.
"I'm on the Sunday rotation," Hamels joked. "I had six, seven days off. I'm pretty healthy. That's what it is."
Postseason baseball was played here for the first time in 15 years. The largest crowd in Great American Ball Park's eight-season history - 44,599 - showed up only to see the game end with a Phillies celebration.
For the visiting team, it was a sight all too familiar - and just the second step toward the goal of another world championship.
"The way that we were able to do it," Manuel said, "we're going to take that energy and momentum on to the next series."
Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
at 215-854-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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