CINCINNATI - Great American Ball Park is as hitter-friendly as hitter-friendly can be - or at least as friendly as Citizens Bank Park. But Phillies lefthander Cole Hamels has found the home of the Cincinnati Reds to his liking.
Should that trend continue, the Phillies will be playing in a third consecutive NL Championship Series.
Hamels takes the ball Sunday in Game 3 as the Phillies attempt to sweep their NL division series against the Reds. The Reds will go with Johnny Cueto, a 12-game winner who pitched well in his two starts against the Phils this year but did not get a win in his last six starts of the regular season.
Hamels is 6-0 with a 1.07 ERA against Cincinnati in seven career starts. His first major-league appearance was in Cincinnati, on May 12, 2006, when he carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning.
A year later, Hamels pitched his first complete game in the majors, accompanied by a career-high 15 strikeouts, at the bandbox on the Ohio River.
"This is the place where I debuted and it's special just because that's the place I debuted," Hamels said. "Pitching in this ballpark, they have a great mound, great setup. It's similar to Citizens Bank Park. So it can be familiar in that sort of area. I only get to pitch here once a year, so it could just be the scenario that I was hot that month and I happened to pitch in Cincinnati."
Hamels went 72/3 innings against the Reds in Philadelphia in July, earning a 1-0 win.
"We've got a new team this year and I think we've faced him maybe once and, if I'm not mistaken, he threw really well against us. But we're at home and I just think it will be a different attitude," said Reds first baseman Joey Votto. "We'll play well and I don't think the past is going to matter."
The Phillies beat up Cueto for nine runs in an eventual 22-1 win at Citizens Bank Park last year, but in two appearances against Philadelphia this season, Cueto was in control.
Cueto pitched one of his best games of the season against the Phillies on June 28 in Cincinnati, allowing just one run on six hits over eight innings to earn the win in a 7-3 Cincinnati victory. He also received a no-decision in a 4-3 Phillies win at Citizens Bank Park on July 8. He allowed two runs, one of them earned, and four hits in seven innings of that game.
"I just need to concentrate," said Cueto. "I'm going to be watching the times I've been throwing to them, the videos, and try to keep the ball down to get the most outs I can."
Cueto went 6-3 at home this season with a 3.20 ERA. In his third full season in the majors, the 24-year-old Dominican set a career high with 12 wins. It could have been more but the Cincinnati bullpen blew six saves in games he started. Only Florida's Josh Johnson had more potential wins, seven, lost by his bullpen.
Cueto hasn't pitched since Sept. 29, while Hamels started last Sunday's regular season finale at Atlanta. Cueto is more of a power pitcher, unlike Cincinnati's Game 2 starter Bronson Arroyo.
"I have more rest than I'm used to," said Cueto. "I have almost like a week-and-a-half. I don't want to try to throw - overthrow, like you say. I will be trying to just throw my game."