The Philadelphia Phillies got a taste of the postseason in 2007, but still haven’t won a playoff game in nearly 15 years. It’s been even longer for the Milwaukee Brewers, who are playing meaningful October baseball for the first time since 1982.
Both teams will try to end their respective droughts on Wednesday afternoon when they open their NL division series at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies won 13 of their last 17 regular-season games in 2007, passing the New York Mets on the last day of the season to grab the NL East title and their first playoff berth since they lost in the World Series in 1993. Their momentum stalled, however, with a three-game NLDS sweep to eventual NL champion Colorado.
After another strong stretch run in which they won 13 of their last 16 games, the Phillies (92-70) enter this postseason hoping to put last year’s failures behind them and earn their first playoff victory since Oct. 21, 1993.
“Last year, we came up short,” shortstop Jimmy Rollins said Saturday after Philadelphia clinched its second consecutive division crown. “We got some making up to do.”
Among the teams in this year’s field, only the Brewers have gone longer than the Phillies since winning a playoff game. The AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays are making their first postseason appearance, but they’ve only existed since 1998.
Milwaukee (90-72) won six of its last seven regular-season games to secure the NL wild card and its first trip to the playoffs since winning the AL pennant in 1982. The Brewers haven’t won a postseason game since Oct. 17, 1982 - Game 5 of the World Series against St. Louis.
“Something special has happened,” interim manager Dale Sveum said Wednesday regarding his team’s strong finish. “We want to continue it throughout the playoffs and hopefully get 11 more wins.”
The Brewers’ success in the last week of the season helped the club overcome losses in 15 of its first 19 games in September - a slump which included Ned Yost’s firing as manager on Sept. 15. As disconcerting as that stretch was, Milwaukee’s ability to bounce back from it has given the team added confidence heading into October.
“It’s been a crazy week, crazy month, crazy year for that matter,” said outfielder Ryan Braun, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year who led the Brewers with 37 homers and 106 RBIs in 2008, including a two-run homer in the eighth inning Sunday to give Milwaukee a 3-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs and the wild card. “We really had to overcome a lot to get to this point. A lot of different guys contributed.
“It is really special. Nothing was given to us. We haven’t played great this month, but great teams find a way to overcome that and win tough games.”
Braun, though, went only 5-for-24 (.208) with one home run and two RBIs in six games against the Phillies as Milwaukee went 1-5 in the season series. The Brewers have lost eight of their last nine games at Philadelphia, and are 5-15 all-time at Citizens Bank Park, which opened in 2004.
Four of those games were huge for the Phillies’ postseason push. Philadelphia outscored Milwaukee 26-10 during a four-game sweep from Sept. 11-14, making up 2 1/2 games on the Mets in the process. Sveum replaced Yost after that series.
Cole Hamels (14-10, 3.09 ERA) was the winning pitcher in the Phillies’ 7-3 win over the Brewers on Sept. 13, limiting them to two runs in 6 1-3 innings. He’ll try to put together a repeat performance Wednesday when he takes the mound for his second career postseason start.
The left-hander, who had a 2.42 ERA over his last 10 starts of the regular season, gave up three runs in 6 2-3 innings of a Game 1 loss to Colorado last Oct. 3. He’s 2-1 with a 4.41 ERA in five career starts against Milwaukee.
The Brewers will counter with Yovani Gallardo (0-0, 1.88), who’s starting his second game since spending nearly five months on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his right knee. In his return Thursday, the right-hander held Pittsburgh to one run and three hits while striking out seven in four innings of Milwaukee’s 5-1, 10-inning win.
“That was huge, everything worked for the best and he threw the heck out of the ball,” Sveum said. “Everything went fine, he recovered and he’s ready to go.”
The 22-year-old Gallardo, who’s 9-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 24 career games in the majors, allowed one run in 6 2-3 innings to win his only previous start against the Phillies on Aug. 3, 2007. He’s determined not to let the pressure of the postseason change his approach.
“I think that’s the important thing, you’ve got to take it as another regular baseball game and not try to do anything extra,” said Gallardo, who does not expect to be on a pitch count. “You just take it as another extra game and go from there.”
The only run Gallardo allowed in his 2007 start against the Phillies came on a home run by Pat Burrell. Burrell, though, is uncertain for Game 1 after he left Tuesday’s workout with discomfort in his lower back. The left fielder batted .250 with 33 home runs and 86 RBIs this season.