Phils advance to NLCS

October 5, 2008 8:57:30 PM PDT
The Philadelphia Phillies found plenty of power to go with their pitching, right in time for the NL championship series. Pat Burrell broke out of his slump in a big way with two homers, one a three-run shot, and Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth added solo drives Sunday to lead the Phillies to a 6-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers that clinched their first trip to the NLCS since 1993.

Overshadowed by the offensive barrage was a gem by midseason addition Joe Blanton, who held the Brewers to one run after an eight-day layoff. Rollins got the Phillies started with a leadoff shot and Philadelphia won the best-of-five series three games to one, earning another crack at the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS.

The teams have met for the NL pennant three times before. The Dodgers won in 1977 and '78, while the Phillies took the flag in 1983.

Game 1 is Thursday in Philadelphia. During the regular season, each team swept a four-game series from the other at home.

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.

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, even as Philadelphia jumped out to a 2-0 lead. The 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 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.

But Burrell made the Brewers pay, lofting Suppan's 2-2 pitch so deep into the left-field stands that Ryan Braun barely bothered to chase it. He turned and started to jog toward the wall, but the ball was long gone by then. 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.

It could have been even uglier for Milwaukee. The Phillies had runners at second and third with only one out in the second, but Suppan struck out Carlos Ruiz and Blanton.

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.

Burrell hit another monster homer to left 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.

"From the first batter, it really set the tone. It allowed me to get comfortable," Blanton said.

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 Prince Fielder, who had been 0-for-12 in his first postseason. After J.J. Hardy followed with a single, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel replaced Blanton with Ryan Madson.

Hardy advanced to third on two groundouts, but Madson retired Jason Kendall on a popout to end the threat.

The Brewers added another run in the eighth on Braun's two-out RBI single, and the Milwaukee fans - including the blue-collar truck driver in Miller ads 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.

Notes: Baseball commissioner and former Brewers owner Bud Selig threw out the first pitch. ... Sabathia pinch-hit in the third inning. ... Brewers 3B Craig Counsell made a nice catch on a popup off the Miller Park rafters.


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