Monday, October 20, 2008

Phillies advance to World Series, Hamels named NLCS MVP

The Philadelphia Phillies, behind their ace Cole Hamels, finished off the Dodgers Wednesday night, winning the National League Championship Series.

The “Fightin’ Phills” plain and simply dominated the Los Angeles ball-club, winning games 1, 2, 4, and 5 to advance to their first World Series since 1993.

(I originally picked the Phillies to take this series in 6. It ended in 5, but as I stated, the series was a slugfest, at least as far as Philadelphia was concerned.)

Hamels was selected as the series MVP for his efforts. Not surprisingly, he wants more.

The remarkably young, 24-year-old left-hander improved to 3-0 in the postseason, allowing a run and five hits over seven innings with five strikeouts as the Phillies ended the Dodgers’ hopes with a 5-1 victory.

“To get an award like this is something surreal. This definitely has to go to the whole team right here. But it’s only a stepping stone,” Hamels said. “Being in that parade down Broad Street is what we all want. Getting a World Series ring and trophy is what really matters. Getting there is great, but winning it all is the best.”

No doubt.

In the series opener, Hamels gave up two runs and six hits over seven innings, but the Philadelphia offense came on strong, with home runs by Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, to beat Derek Lowe and the Dodgers 3-2. The Phillies offensive display over a couple of big innings that night was just a short preview of how they were going to dominate the rest of the series. However, first-baseman Ryan Howard did not produce too much more at the plate after that round-tripper in Game 1. Howard’s batting average throughout the NLCS slipped under the “Mendoza Line” (.200).

Despite a powerful Phillies’ offense, Hamels did not get much run support during the regular season. Philadelphia bats scored three runs or less in eight of his losses and were shut-out in three of them.

“Cole is a guy that sat around and would give up two runs in a game and get no-decisions and losses. I’m sure he got frustrated, but he never really got upset,” shortstop Jimmy Rollins stated, who led off game five with a home run off Chad Billingsley. “Every time I spoke with him he just said, ‘Well, next time.’ And then it came to a point where he’d say, ‘Forget next time, I want to do it now.’”

“Now it’s come all the way around for him,” Rollins added. “Runs that we weren’t getting for him in the season have been sufficient for him in the postseason.”

Hamels struck out 13 in 14 innings, and finished with a 1.93 ERA in the series. He located his fastball exceptionally well and kept hitters off balance with the deception of his change-up.

The lefty is the fourth Phillies player to win the NLCS MVP award, joining second-basemen Manny Trillo (1980), left-fielder Gary Matthews (1983), and right-handed pitcher Curt Schilling (1993).

Hamels will return to the mound Wednesday, as he is scheduled to start Game 1 of the World Series against the winner of the Red Sox/Rays series. The Rays hold a 3-2 lead over Boston with Game 6 taking place at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay Friday night.

The ALCS was thought to be over, especially after Tampa Bay built a 7-0 lead in Game 5 on Thursday night. However, Boston had other thoughts. The Red Sox scored 8 runs in the final two innings of the game to pull off the second largest comeback in postseason history and the biggest comeback in an elimination game in the postseason.

(I originally predicted the Rays to win in 7.)

Philadelphia hopes this World Series will go better than the last.

Recall the image of Toronto Blue Jays’ slugger Joe Carter hammering what he thought was a slider from Philly closer Mitch Williams over the left field wall of the Rogers Centre in the bottom of the ninth during Game 7 to win the ‘93 Fall Classic. It was just the second walk-off home run in Major League history to win a World Series (Bill Mazerowski’s blast against the Yankees in 1960 to give Pittsburgh the World Series title).

The home run led to the demise of Mitch Williams, who still insists that the pitch was a bad fastball.

Philadelphia fans didn’t care what pitch was thrown. Neither did Joe Carter. Williams has stayed outside a 100-mile radius of Philadelphia ever since that fateful evening.

If the Phillies can pull out four wins against their A.L. opponent, which would give Philadelphia its second World Series title, Mitch Williams would undoubtedly be forgiven. Just look at how Boston fans forgave Bill Buckner, as they invited him to be honored during a regular season game this season. They even let him throw out the first pitch. It was the first time Buckner stepped foot into Fenway Park in over 25 years. It was the first time he’d even visited the city of Boston in over 25 years!

I do expect the Phillies to have a tough go of things once again. (I predicted the Rays to defeat the Phillies in a four-game-sweep to win this season’s Fall Classic when I made my infamous postseason predictions earlier this month.)

-Chris Barfield (with a special thank-you to The Associated Press)

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