Thursday, October 2, 2008

PHILADELPHIA | Cole Hamels was so dominant the Milwaukee Brewers were glad to see Brad Lidge come in. The switch to their perfect closer nearly cost the Philadelphia Phillies.

Behind their top two arms, the Phillies grabbed their first postseason victory in 15 years - barely.

Hamels pitched eight brilliant innings, Lidge escaped a ninth-inning jam and Philadelphia took advantage of Mike Cameron‘s miscue in center field for a 3-1 win over Milwaukee in their playoff opener Wednesday.

Chase Utley’s two-run double slipped out of Cameron’s glove in the third, helping the Phillies take a 3-0 lead. Lidge allowed a run in the ninth but struck out Corey Hart with runners at second and third to end it.

“I can’t let him get a hit there,” said Lidge, who was 41-for-41 in save chances this season. “I’ve always been a strikeout pitcher, and that’s what I wanted to do.”

Game 2 in the best-of-five series is Thursday, with ace CC Sabathia going to the mound for the wild-card Brewers on three days’ rest for the fourth consecutive start. Brett Myers pitches for the Phillies.

It will be tough for anyone to match Hamels’ superb performance. The 24-year-old lefty retired the first 14 batters and allowed two hits, striking out nine.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel considered sending Hamels out to start the ninth but decided to go with Lidge. The Brewers got the tying run to the plate, but Prince Fielder fanned for the second out. After J.J. Hardy walked to put two runners on, they advanced on a wild pitch. Then Hart struck out swinging.

“Not too many times you can say you’re happy to see Lidge, but we didn’t hit the ball hard off Hamels all day,” Brewers manager Dale Sveum said.

Hamels baffled the fastball-hitting Brewers with his dazzling change-up, helping the Phillies earn their first postseason win since the 1993 World Series against Toronto.

The NL East champions were swept out of the first round by the surging Colorado Rockies last year. Hamels lost the opener of that series but didn’t have any jitters this time around.

“I learned what it really takes in trying to kind of mellow out, not have that sort of excitement where you can’t really control everything,” he said.

Making his second start since returning from surgery for a torn knee ligament, Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo got rattled after his defense fell apart in the third.

The 22-year-old righty allowed three unearned runs and three hits in four innings, walking five. Gallardo became the second pitcher in major league history to start a postseason game without recording a win that year. He pitched in three games before he injured his right knee May 1 and had a 1.88 ERA to go with four no-decisions.

“Things like that are going to happen,” Gallardo said about the defensive lapses. “There’s no excuse for you to come in and let your guard down. You still have to go out there and make pitches and get out of situations like that.”

Carlos Ruiz started Philadelphia’s third inning with a single. Hamels then bunted hard to third baseman Bill Hall, who bobbled the ball, costing him a chance to get Ruiz at second. Second baseman Rickie Weeks dropped Hall’s throw to first for an error.

Gallardo almost worked out of the jam, though. He retired Jimmy Rollins on a shallow fly and struck out Jayson Werth. But Utley ripped a liner through a swirling wind to center. Cameron took a poor route, raced back and reached up for a backhanded catch only to have the ball bounce out of his glove.

Both runners scored on Utley’s double for a 2-0 lead. A three-time Gold Glove winner, Cameron usually makes that play look routine.

“If he doesn’t make that catch, nobody can,” Sveum said.

Gallardo intentionally walked Ryan Howard and then walked Pat Burrell to load the bases. Gallardo walked Shane Victorino to force in another run before retiring Pedro Feliz on a fly to center.

Hamels, who didn’t get much run support as he went 14-10 in the regular season, didn’t need any more. The Phillies had just four hits.

Hart lined a single to right on an 0-2 pitch with two outs in the fifth for Milwaukee’s first hit. Hamels pitched out of his only jam in the sixth. Craig Counsell singled with one out, and Cameron walked. But Hamels fanned Hall on a down-and-away change-up and got Ryan Braun to pop out.

A sellout crowd of 45,929 at Citizens Bank Park withstood a steady rain for most of the game, waved their “Fightin’ Phils” rally towels and savored a rare playoff victory.

This championship-starved city hasn’t celebrated a title since the NBA’s 76ers won it all in 1983.

The Brewers, in the postseason for the first time in 26 years, now turn to Sabathia. The burly left-hander almost single-handedly carried Milwaukee into the playoffs, going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA after he was acquired July 7 from Cleveland. But Sabathia is just 2-2 with a 7.17 ERA in four postseason starts.

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