CINCINNATI (AP) — Charlie Manuel and the Philadelphia Phillies need just one more win to return to the NL championship series. Cole Hamels is ready to go in Game 3, and if he can’t get it done, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt are right behind him.
So while Reds manager Dusty Baker is talking about faith, his time in the military and a self-help book he read earlier this year, Manuel feels comfortable enough to say he doesn’t like Cincinnati’s chances of advancing.
“It can happen,” the grinning manager said Saturday. “It ain’t goin’ to happen, but it can happen.”
Yup, the Reds’ first postseason trip in 15 years could be headed for an abrupt end when they host Hamels and the Phillies on Sunday night in the first playoff game at Great American Ball Park.
After Halladay’s dazzling no-hitter in Game 1 and a gut-wrenching 7-4 loss Friday night that featured seven unanswered Philadelphia runs and a slew of costly mistakes by the NL Central champs, everyone wants to know what Cincinnati has left. HALLADAY’S GAME 1 NO-HITTER
“I do think we’ve turned the page and I think that we’re excited to play tomorrow, especially at home,” first baseman Joey Votto said. “Hopefully we get to make it a one-game series in Philadelphia.”
Hard to imagine another road trip for the Reds, who have dropped six straight and seven of eight against the two-time defending NL champions. The left side of Cincinnati’s infield is ailing, too, with third baseman Scott Rolen playing through back and shoulder stiffness and shortstop Orlando Cabrera likely out for Game 3.
Cabrera aggravated his left side Friday night and could be removed from the roster. He missed 27 games in August and September after pulling muscles in his side.
“I feel better today and hopefully tomorrow I can keep improving,” Cabrera said.
If Cabrera can’t play, slick-fielding Paul Janish would get the start. That extra range could help the Reds after their worst fielding game of the season.
Cincinnati’s best defensive regulars — Rolen, second baseman Brandon Phillips and right fielder Jay Bruce — combined for four errors that led to five unearned runs. It was a surprising way to fall apart after the Reds finished second in the NL with a club-record .988 fielding percentage.
“There are no absolutes. Nothing’s for certain,” Baker said, before adding, “We had a couple of very unfortunate innings with things that happened. But you can’t bring it back. You’ve got to go forward.”
Phillips, who led NL second basemen in fielding percentage, and Rolen mishandled grounders in the fifth, leading to Chase Utley’s two-run single. Bruce lost Jimmy Rollin’s seventh-inning liner in the lights and Phillips botched Bruce’s relay throw, allowing the tiebreaking run to score.
“It is what it is,” Bruce said. “It was unfortunate. Like I said, I feel like I let my team down but in the reality of things I really couldn’t do anything about it. It’s all part of the game. The game’s humbling.”
While Bruce and the Reds are back at their ballpark, Hamels feels right at home at Cincinnati’s 8-year-old field, too. The left-hander made his major league debut here in 2006 and struck out 15 in a complete-game victory at Great American in 2007.
All told, the 2008 World Series MVP is 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA in four starts in Cincinnati and 6-0 against the Reds overall.
“Pitching in this ballpark, they have a great mound, great setup,” Hamels said. “It’s similar to Citizens Bank Park. So it can be familiar in that sort of area. I only get to pitch here once a year so it could just be the scenario that I was hot that month and I happened to pitch in Cincinnati.”
Hamels will be opposed by 24-year-old Johnny Cueto, who will be making his first postseason start with the Reds on the brink of elimination.
Baker said he is confident in Cueto, and he has reasons to be both optimistic and concerned.
The hard-throwing right-hander won a career-best 12 games this season and was 1-0 with a 1.20 ERA in two starts against the Phillies. He also has been much better at home, including 1-1 with a sparkling 0.96 ERA in his last four starts at Cincinnati’s riverfront yard.
But he closed the regular season with a six-start winless stretch, raising questions about his postseason rotation spot with a shaky September.
“I’m going to throw a nice game,” Cueto said through a translator. “I’m going to do my job. That’s all I think.”
He will have to throw well for Cincinnati to have a chance, because Philadelphia wants to finish the series as soon as possible. The Phillies are looking for a little extra rest and want to line up their stellar rotation for the next round.
“I don’t foresee our approach changing,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “We’ve been consistent the last few years, playing the game hard and playing it the right way. The pitching is different that it’s been in the past. It adds confidence. There’s a lot to be said for confidence. Confidence can go a long way in this game.”
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