CINCINNATI -- The Phillies survived and thrived through the Cliff Lee fiasco because Roy Halladay won 21 games this season and because Roy Oswalt was better than J.A. Happ would have been down the stretch.
But would it have mattered if Colbert Richard Hamels repeated 2009 this season and not 2008? Would the Phillies be as intimidating, as formidable, with a diluted offense that produced just three extra-base hits in their three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds?
Hamels has been the Phillies real ghost-buster this season. He's the biggest reason -- not Halladay or Oswalt -- that Lee is less of a specter than he would have been, the biggest reason this National League Division Series ended in a sweep as expected.
Hamels allowed four hits and struck out nine in a complete-game 2-0 victory over the Reds at Great American Ball Park as the Phillies finished a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds. Only twice did a Reds player reach second, and Hamels' stuff seemed to improve as the game wore on. After Chase Utley's home run doubled his 1-0 cushion, Hamels retired eight batters in a row, striking out four - including three of the four at the top of the order.
From the fifth inning on, he allowed one hit, one baserunner.
He did not walk a batter all game.
The Phillies hit Reds starter Johnny Cueto hard in the first inning but needed Orlando Cabrera's two-out throwing error, which pulled Joey Votto off first base, to get their first run. It scored Placido Polanco from third and sent Davey Lopes sprawling to the ground. Ironically, it was one of the better pitches in Cueto's 21-pitch inning, fooling Jayson Werth into a slow ground ball that Orlando Cabrera, who nearly missed the game with a sore oblique, rushed and fired high to first.
Cueto surrendered some loud outs in the second inning, but started to find his groove in the third inning, when he induced slow ground balls to Polanco and Ryan Howard (an opposite field dribbler that went for a hit against the shift), and struck out Chase Utley and Jayson Werth.
Utley's fifth-inning home run came on Cueto's 82nd pitch -- nearly 90 minutes into the game. One pitch later Cueto was out of the inning, and two batters into the Reds' fifth, Cueto was out of the game.
Utley, who lost a three-run home run during the 2006 pennant race on a pre-replay bad judgement call, appeared matter-of-fact with teammates in the dugout as umpires retired briefly to review their on-field call. It took one minute, 13 seconds to confirm the call, one of the quicker facets of tonight's tension dripped game.
Not counting his two-inning tuneup on the last day of the regular season, Hamels has allowed one run or less in five of his last six starts. He finished September with a 1.93 ERA. He's been a rock, the guy who could pitch through the nastiest weather of Game 5 without his best pitch, a guy who could rebound from a big hit with big outs.
And a guy who could shake off a fielder's error like Polanco's muff of an eighth-inning popup in foul territory. Hamels' next pitch was a strike, and the pitch after that induced a ground out. He then struck out Drew Stubbs to end the eighth inning.
So dominant was his performance that Charlie Manuel let him hit with Carlos Ruiz on second and one out in the eighth - against 100-mile-per-hour lefthander Aroldis Chapman.
Hamels ripped a deep fly ball to left for the second out.