CINCINNATI - The Phillies didn't suffer from a hangover from Sunday night's debilitating loss in Atlanta. They didn't look overmatched against the first-place Reds, either.
Instead, they beat the second-best team in baseball with three rookie pitchers.
Tyler Cloyd made the most of his second big-league start and Phillippe Aumont was up to the task when asked to nail down his first major league save opportunity. Despite sporting a fastball that will never impress a radar gun, Cloyd dominated the Reds for seven innings while Aumont did what the team's veteran closer couldn't do the night before as the Phillies took a 4-2 win in a Labor Day matinee.
Jimmy Rollins supplied the offensive punch by launching a go-ahead, three-run homer in the fifth inning. Justin De Fratus, the second of three rookie pitchers to take the mound, pitched a scoreless eighth in the Phils' eighth win in their last 11 games.
"It's definitely good - I know they have one of the best records in baseball," Aumont said of the 82-54 Reds, who are tied with Washington (82-52) for the most wins in baseball. "As for me or for any of the other pitchers, it's just another ballgame. Get the guys out and don't look at anything else. You have to get the guys out whether it's the worst team, the best team or whatever."
Not bad for a trio of 'Pigs.
On the day the 2012 season ended for the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, a trio of pitchers who spent the majority of their season in Allentown held one of the National League's best offenses to two runs on six hits. Cloyd set the tone in a start that was as impressive as any other by a Phillies pitcher this season, considering the circumstances.
The 25-year-old Cloyd, an unlikely success story this season, was matched up against Cincinnati righthander and NL Cy Young Award favorite Johnny Cueto. The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Jay Bruce teed off on an 80 mph pitch and sent it out for his 30th home run of the season.
But Cloyd would leave with more souvenirs than the Reds fan who caught the home-run ball, the only damage on the righthander's pitching line. With his parents, grandmother and several friends making the 9 1/2-hour trip from Nebraska to attend Monday's game, Cloyd took home the game ball for his first career victory, and the ball that he smacked for a single off Cueto for his first major league hit, too.
"It was awesome," Cloyd said. "I felt a little more relaxed. My two-seam fastball and my changeup were working really well for me. That helped me a lot."
Cloyd held the Reds to one run on four hits in seven innings; he didn't walk a batter and had nine strikeouts, more than he had in any of his 26 minor league starts while posting a 15-1 record between Double A Reading and Lehigh Valley this season.
"I have no clue," Cloyd joked on how he got that many strikeouts.
"He changed speeds, got the ball down and got ahead of hitters," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He would get ahead of the hitters and use his curveball or changeup down and out of the strike zone. He was selling his pitches to them when he got ahead of them."
After throwing first-pitch strikes to only two of the first seven hitters he faced, Cloyd started with a strike to 13 of his final 18 batters. But just as crucial of his command of the strike zone was the 1-1 slider he hit back through the middle against Cueto in the fifth inning.
After batterymate Steve Lerud collected his second big-league hit with two outs and no one on, Cloyd collected his first; the ball was promptly collected and thrown into the Phillies' dugout. The new ball didn't stay on the field long.
With the Phils trailing, 1-0, Rollins ripped Cueto's first pitch out to rightfield for his team-high 17th home run.
"Not only was it my first hit," Cloyd said, "but it made the game different."
Cloyd allowed just two singles in three innings after Rollins' home run. After serving up his own home run to Bruce, Cloyd was unbroken, retiring 17 of the final 20 batters he faced.
"He's pretty cool," Manuel said. "That's what kind of pitcher he is, that's what kind of guy he is. Not too much fazes him . . . The last time he was out he was pretty good. [That was last Wednesday in a 3-2 loss to the Mets in his major league debut.] Today, he was better. Tremendous command."
The hard-throwing Aumont might as well be Cloyd's polar opposite. With a heavy fastball and knee-bending curve, Aumont might have the best stuff on the team next to the three All-Star starters; his problem since coming over from Seattle in the Cliff Lee trade has been commanding the strike zone.
But with the Phils staying away from Jonathan Papelbon, who had pitched in four of the last six games, Aumont got the call with his team up, 4-1, in the bottom of the ninth.
"I thought for sure it was Pap; that's his job," Aumont said. "And then they told me, 'Phil, you got it.' My knees almost buckled."
Facing the heart of the Cincinnati lineup, Aumont recovered and limited the damage to a run-scoring single by Bruce. With the game-tying run at the plate in the form of NL Rookie of the Year favorite Todd Frazier, Aumont got the Toms River, N.J., native to tap a ball in front of the plate.
At the end of a day, when rain poured on the field throughout the afternoon, Aumont fired his best pitch of the day: a strike to Ryan Howard at first for the game's final out.
"I grabbed that ball and it was soaked," Aumont said, laughing. "I was just, 'Get it to Howard, just get it to Howard. It doesn't matter how you do it, just get it to him.' "
Ryne Sandberg will join the Phillies Tuesday in Cincinnati.
Sandberg, the Hall of Fame second baseman and popular manager of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, will work with the Phillies' coaching staff for the remainder of the season; the 'Pigs' season ended via rainout on Monday. Joining Sandberg on the trip from Allentown to Great American Ball Park are pitching coach Rod Nichols and infielder Pete Orr.
When Orr is added to the roster on Tuesday, the 40-man roster will be back at 40 players. But that doesn't rule out adding Darin Ruf later this month.
A roster spot can be created for Ruf, who is at Double A Reading as it preps for the Eastern League playoffs, by moving either Mike Stutes or Vance Worley from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list.