MILWAUKEE (AP)—With plenty of power to go with their improved pitching, the Philadelphia Phillies are ready for anything in the NL championship series.
Bring on the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I like our chances,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Sunday after Philadelphia clinched its first trip to the NLCS since 1993 with a 6-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
“I think we can hold our own with them. Actually, I think we can beat anybody in the National League, really,” he said.
Especially if the Phillies keep playing this way.
After scuffling through the first three games of the NL division series, Philadelphia’s offense broke out in a big way against the Brewers in Game 4 of the best-of-five series. Jimmy Rollins led off the game with a home run, Pat Burrell connected twice to break out of his postseason slump and Jayson Werth added a solo shot.
Not to be overlooked, midseason addition Joe Blanton threw a gem, holding the Brewers to one run after an eight-day layoff.
“That took a lot of pressure off of us,” Rollins said of his home run. “We were up 1-0, regardless, no matter how the top of the first ended. On the other side, of course, it’s going to put a little more pressure on you because their guys are thinking, ‘OK, well, we got to answer back.”’
The Brewers never could, and the Phillies rushed the mound at Miller Park after the final out, setting off a raucous celebration. Some Philly fans held up a banner that read, “World Series Here We Come Fightin’ Phillies.”
In the clubhouse, the Phillies sprayed each other with champagne and beer, with Rollins wearing swimming goggles and a big grin as he searched for unsuspecting—not to mention dry—teammates.
Burrell was doused so many times it’ll be days before his sweatshirt dries out, but he never stopped smiling.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled. You know, I don’t think it’s actually sunk in all that much yet,” said Burrell, who has been with the Phillies since they drafted him in 1998.
It will later this week, when the Phillies take on their old foe the Dodgers. Game 1 of the NLCS is Thursday in Philadelphia.
The Dodgers and Philadelphia have met for the NL pennant three times before. Los Angeles won in 1977 and ’78, while the Phillies took the flag in 1983.
During the regular season, the Phillies and Dodgers each swept a four-game series from the other at home. Philadelphia outscored Los Angeles 43-27 in those eight matchups.
“It’s going to be a good series, but I think we can score runs on them,” Manuel said. “The way our guys pitch … I don’t see no reason in the world why we can’t stay right with them.”
The wild-card Brewers, meanwhile, head for an offseason of uncertainty after their first playoff appearance in 26 years. Ace pitcher CC Sabathia, who almost single-handedly salvaged Milwaukee’s postseason hopes, is a free agent and isn’t expected back.
Ben Sheets, the team’s second-best starter, might be gone, too.
Oh, and the Brewers need a manager after firing Ned Yost with 12 games left in the regular season. Dale Sveum took over on an interim basis.
“We did something we hadn’t done for a long time. We have to build on this,” said slugger Prince Fielder, who hadn’t even been born the last time the Brewers made the playoffs. “I’m happy with the season. Just because we didn’t win doesn’t take away what we did.”
Burrell, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were a fearsome trio in the regular season for the Phillies, putting up the kind of numbers that make opposing pitchers shudder. Howard made a case for the NL MVP, leading the league in home runs (48) and RBIs (146), and Utley and Burrell added 33 homers each.
But their bats were deafeningly silent in the first three games of the series, as Philadelphia rode outstanding outings by Cole Hamels and Brett Myers to jump out to a 2-0 lead. The Big Three were a dismal 4-for-28 in the first three games, with Burrell going hitless.
The power outage was reminiscent of last year, when they went 5-for-27 while being swept by Colorado. This wasn’t the same, Howard and Burrell insisted after Saturday night’s loss. Philadelphia’s offensive fortunes were about to turn.
Did they ever.
Rollins led off Sunday’s game with a homer, turning on a 3-2 pitch from Jeff Suppan and depositing it into the first row of seats in right field. Two innings later, Shane Victorino doubled to left with one out and went to third on a groundout by Utley. The Brewers opted to walk Howard, which wouldn’t seem like a bad move, considering Burrell’s single in the second was his first hit of the postseason.
“You can’t blame the other team for pitching around him, especially in that situation there. The goal there is just to try and get something to hit,” said Burrell, who wondered briefly Sunday morning if he’d still be in the lineup after his struggles. “Fortunately, I hung around long enough to get a good pitch to hit.”
Burrell lofted Suppan’s 2-2 pitch so deep into the left-field stands that Ryan Braun barely bothered to chase it. The Phillies weren’t done, either, with Werth hitting a homer to make it 5-0. The sellout crowd at Miller Park booed Suppan, not letting up when Greg Dobbs flied out to end the inning.
Yovani Gallardo, who pitched Game 1 after missing most of the season with a knee injury, relieved Suppan and kept the Phillies in check, not allowing another hit until the seventh inning. But the damage was done by then.
“We never really got the bases loaded, got a bunch of guys on base to break the game open or get back in the game,” Sveum said.
Burrell hit another monster homer in the eighth inning off Guillermo Mota.
The Brewers had their own offensive worries, though Blanton can take credit for most of those. The burly right-hander, acquired in July from Oakland, hadn’t pitched since Sept. 26 and was making only his second career postseason appearance. But he was in a groove from the minute he took the mound, thanks partly to Rollins’ leadoff homer.
“Jimmy came out of the gates and really set the tone, gave us some momentum early,” Blanton said. “Then later Pat came through with the big blow. That’s huge. That really gives you a lot of confidence pitching.”
After a first-inning single by Braun, Blanton retired his next 10 hitters, with only four balls leaving the infield. He finally wore out in the seventh, giving up a leadoff homer to Fielder, who had been 0-for-12 in his first postseason.
The Brewers added another run in the eighth on Braun’s two-out RBI single, and the Milwaukee fans—including the blue-collar Miller delivery man who’s made it his mission to “take back the High Life”—stood and began clapping their Thunder Stix, sensing a change in momentum.
But Utley made a gorgeous, leaping catch of Fielder’s liner to second to end the inning and any hopes the Brewers had.
Rollins’ leadoff homer was the second of his career in the postseason. … Baseball commissioner and former Brewers owner Bud Selig threw out the first pitch. … Sabathia pinch-hit in the third inning.