CINCINNATI – As if the Reds needed one more indignity at the hands of the superior-in-every-way-imaginable Philadelphia Phillies. For the second time in a month – and second time ever recorded – reliever Aroldis Chapman(notes) threw a pitch that registered 105 mph on the stadium radar gun.
But wait, an encore humiliation loomed. Joey Votto(notes) came to the plate with none out and one on in the ninth inning, the Reds trailing 2-0, Phillies starter Cole Hamels(notes) still dealing. Votto, the likely National League MVP and new face of the Cincinnati Reds. Votto, capable of tying the score with one swing.
Hamels made like Visine and got the Red out: Votto bounced into a double play.
Then Scott Rolen(notes) swung through an eye-high, strike-three fastball and the 15-year wait for playoff baseball in Cincinnati ended almost the day it began. The Phillies had swept them behind Roy Halladay's(notes) no-hitter in Game 1, a surfeit of Reds mistakes in Game 2 and Hamels' five-hit shutout in Game 3.
Yes, superior in every way imaginable.
"It was a humbling experience," Votto said.
The Phillies can do that. They'll almost certainly shame their next opponent, be it the San Francisco Giants or Atlanta Braves, teams that already have embarrassed themselves while getting into the playoffs and engaging in an entertaining if gaffe-filled division series.
"Our ultimate goal is to win the World Series and I think that's where we stand," Hamels said.
That explains why the Phillies didn't celebrate on the field Sunday night and conducted only an abbreviated champagne-squirting session in the clubhouse. They beat the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 World Series and lost to the New York Yankees in the 2009 World Series. Both of those teams are alive in the AL.
Being a member of the Phillies is a great gig if you can get it. They don't play again until Saturday. Halladay will start Game 1 of the NLCS on nine days rest. He hasn't allowed a hit since Sept. 27 and hasn't allowed a run since Sept. 21.
The Phillies open the NLCS at home and would have home-field advantage in the World Series as well. Manager Charlie Manuel sees how it's stacking up and, in the afterglow of the sweep, couldn't help but jokingly gloat.
"I'm good when you throw no-hitters and shutouts," he said. "I think I'm a pretty good manager. What do you think?"
He's a homespun genius, that's all there is to it. Of course, it helps when he can fill in a lineup card with these familiar October names:
Shane Victorino(notes): the flyin' Hawaiian.
Placido Polanco(notes): third-base upgrade over Pedro Feliz(notes).
Chase Utley(notes): embodiment of California cool.
Ryan Howard(notes): slugger personalized to the masses courtesy of Subway.
Jayson Werth(notes): soon to cash in on a $100 million-plus free-agent contract.
Jimmy Rollins: providing swagger even while playing hurt.
Raul Ibanez(notes): ageless, expressionless, dangerous.
Carlos Ruiz: wily catcher who led the team in batting average.
Roy Oswalt(notes) joins Halladay and Hamels, the H2O starting trio. The back of the bullpen is the only question mark, although Ryan Madsen and Brad Lidge(notes) haven't caused heart palpitations in a while. They were barely needed against the Reds, called upon to finish Game 2 after the Phillies had mounted a late-inning comeback aided by their opponent's mistakes.
The first two games set up the third as an execution march. The Phillies were going to win, and the 44,599 who filed into the Ball Park on a balmy 77-degree night seemed to know it. Cincinnati fans take pride in politeness – they are the polar opposite of Phillies fans – and it was hard for them to conceal their dejection even before the first pitch.
Their only consolation was that they believed they had witnessed baseball history when Chapman unleashed the fastball that Ruiz sprayed down the right-field line. His 105.1-mph fastball on Sept. 24 in San Diego was the fastest pitch ever recorded. Could this have topped it?
Actually, Cincinnati must brace itself for one final disappointment. According to official Pitchf/x data, the pitch was 103.5 mph. No record. Nothing historical about it.
Next season will be filled with optimism for the Reds and deservedly so. They ran away with the NL Central. They have a clubhouse full of big arms, big bats and reasonable contracts. They've had a taste of the postseason.
The Phillies are three years farther along the same trajectory. Only one outcome will bring them satisfaction. Even if that means heaping humiliation and shame upon their opponents.