Phillies sweep Reds, reach NL championship series

Preview | Box Score | Recap | Series Breakdown

CINCINNATI (AP)—Cole Hamels(notes) pumped his fist when it was over, and the Philadelphia Phillies celebrated with a few chest bumps and a handshake line before returning to the clubhouse for more champagne.

Ho-hum. Another ace, another dominating performance—and one more trip to the NL championship series.

Hamels struck out nine in a five-hitter, Chase Utley(notes) homered and the Phillies beat the Reds 2-0 on Sunday night to finish off the franchise’s first playoff sweep.

“This moment here is just another stepping stone to trying to win another World Series,” Hamels said.

Philadelphia, attempting to become the first NL team in 66 years to win three straight pennants, will host San Francisco or Atlanta in the NLCS opener on Saturday. The Giants beat the Braves 3-2 Sunday to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five division series.

Roy Halladay(notes) got the Phillies off to a scintillating start with the second no-hitter in postseason history and Hamels finished off the Reds with a masterful performance of his own. With Roy Oswalt(notes) also rested and ready to go for the next round, look out.

“For everybody here the ultimate goal is to get to the World Series,” Halladay said. “This is the first step. We’re all looking to get to the end.”

The Reds, making their first postseason appearance in 15 years, committed six errors in the last two games of the series after finishing second in the NL with a club-record .988 fielding percentage during the regular season.

The NL’s top offense managed only 11 hits in three games—the fewest for a team in a postseason series, according to STATS LLC. The previous low was 13 by Texas against the New York Yankees in 1998.

“I mean, they really pitched,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “They’re a very good team. We kept ‘em in the ballpark, so to speak, kept the runs down. We just didn’t push across enough runs.”

Hamels got Joey Votto(notes) to ground into a double play after Brandon Phillips’(notes) leadoff single in the ninth, then struck out Scott Rolen(notes) to end the game. The lanky left-hander threw 119 pitches in his first postseason complete game, 82 for strikes.

After Rolen struck out for the eighth time in the series, the celebration was on. Well, sort of.

It all looked very routine—Charlie Manuel’s team has practiced this a lot over the past couple of years, including a victory over Tampa Bay in the 2008 World Series.

“We don’t want to get too carried away,” Hamels said. “We’re just going to move on and play the best baseball we can.”

Utley, greeted with loud boos and chants of “Cheater! Cheater!” before each at-bat, connected against Johnny Cueto(notes) in the fifth, giving the Phillies a 2-0 lead. It was his 10th career postseason homer, moving him past teammate Jayson Werth(notes) and into first place on the club’s career list.

Utley started Philadelphia’s winning rally in Game 2 when he was hit by a pitch from hard-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman(notes) in the seventh inning. The All-Star second baseman acknowledged after the game he wasn’t sure if the ball hit him, and a record crowd of 44,599 at Great American Ball Park made it clear what it thought of the play.

Umpires reviewed Utley’s drive to right-center to see if a fan interfered with the ball, but the replays were conclusive and the call was quickly upheld.

No cheating here. Just another timely drive for the NL East champs.

“I knew I hit it OK,” Utley said. “I hit a ball in the first inning I thought I hit better than that one, but lucky for us, the weather is still warm and it’s a good hitters’ ballpark.”

The Reds never regained their footing after Halladay shut them down in the series opener. The surprise NL Central winners led 4-0 in Game 2 but quickly fell apart, committing four errors in a gut-wrenching 7-4 loss that put them on the brink of elimination.

Hamels took it from there.

The 2008 World Series MVP, quite the luxury to have as a No. 3 starter in the postseason, increased his perfect mark against Cincinnati to 7-0 in eight career starts. He also improved to 6-3 in 11 postseason outings.

“I have that sort of positive energy every time I come here,” said Hamels, who tossed five shutout innings in his major league debut in Cincinnati in 2006.

Hamels allowed only two runners to reach second and none of the Reds got to third. He also got some help from his defense in the first when center fielder Shane Victorino(notes) sprinted into the gap in left-center to grab Phillips’ liner with speedy Drew Stubbs(notes) on first.

Cincinnati’s fielders were not so helpful to Cueto.

Reds shortstop Orlando Cabrera(notes), a late addition to the lineup, made an errant throw in the first that allowed Placido Polanco(notes) to score an unearned run, quieting the towel-waving crowd desperate for something to cheer about. Third baseman Scott Rolen mishandled Carlos Ruiz’s(notes) grounder in the sixth but Homer Bailey(notes) got Hamels to fly out to end the inning.

Cincinnati chased nemesis Oswalt early in Game 2, but was still impressed with the Phillies’ trio of starters.

“Those three alone can probably take them to the World Series and win it,” Votto said.

Hamels closed the regular season with a flourish, going 5-1 with a 1.48 ERA in his final seven starts, and picked up right where he left off. He walked none and was in complete control throughout.

“He was sharp and I mean, he was good the whole nine innings,” Manuel said.

Cabrera aggravated his injured left side Friday night and was in danger of being removed from the postseason roster before he fielded grounders and took batting practice prior to Game 3. Baker decided to insert him into the lineup after he said he felt fine, removing slick-fielding Paul Janish(notes).

The move backfired in the first. With two outs and runners on the corners, Werth hit a grounder to Cabrera and his throw pulled Votto off the bag at first. Cabrera raised his left shoulder after the play, stretching out his side, and went 0 for 3 at the plate.

“We didn’t get the job done,” Rolen said. “We didn’t have the series we wanted.”

NOTES: Hall of Fame 2B Joe Morgan, wearing his No. 8 Reds jersey, got a standing ovation when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch. … The St. Louis Cardinals were the last NL team to win three pennants in a row, from 1942-44. … It was an unseasonably warm 77 degrees at first pitch.

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