Phillies Sweep Reds Behind Hamels; Giants Stun Braves on Error

The Philadelphia Phillies are headed to the National League Championship Series for the third straight year after completing a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds with a five-hit shutout by Cole Hamels.

The Phillies beat the Reds 2-0 last night at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati as Hamels had nine strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter.

Led by Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in Game 1 of the NL Division Series, Philadelphia’s starting pitchers allowed three earned runs over 23 innings against a Reds offense that had led the league in runs scored this season.

“They’re going to be tough to beat,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said of the Phillies, who led Major League Baseball with 97 wins during the regular season. “Especially when they throw that pitching at you.”

The Phillies will play the San Francisco Giants or Atlanta Braves for a spot in the World Series.

The Giants grabbed a 2-1 lead in their first-round series yesterday by scoring two runs with two outs in the ninth inning for a 3-2 win over the Braves. The winning run came on the third error of the game by Braves second baseman Brooks Conrad.

“I feel absolutely terrible right now,” Conrad told reporters at Turner Field in Atlanta. “I wish I could just dig a hole and go sleep in there.”

Rays Tie Series

The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Texas Rangers 5-2 in yesterday’s first game to tie their American League playoff series at two games each and force Game 5.

Evan Longoria had three hits, including a two-run home run, and the Rays won their second straight game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.

The best-of-five AL Division Series returns to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, for Game 5 tomorrow.

David Price will be the Rays’ starting pitcher against the Rangers’ Cliff Lee, who was the Game 1 winner. The Rangers are the only current major league team that hasn’t won a postseason series, while the Rays are seeking to become the second team to win a best-of-five playoff series after losing the first two games at home, joining the 2001 New York Yankees.

“It’s down to one game,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “We’ve got Cliff going and we certainly feel good about it. We have proved that we can win there.”

The winner of Game 5 advances to face the Yankees in the AL Championship Series.

Phillies Blank Reds

In Cincinnati, Hamels got all the run support he’d need in the first inning, when Placido Polanco scored on a throwing error by Reds shortstop Orlando Cabrera.

Chase Utley added a solo home run in the fifth inning while Hamels, the 2008 World Series Most Valuable Player, improved to 7-0 against the Reds.

“The postseason is all about pitching,” Hamels said. “When you’re able to pitch good games, you’re going to get wins. And then we have the experience now on our side and that really does help.”

Cincinnati, which was making its first playoff appearance in 15 years, made six errors in losing the final two games of the series. Halladay threw the second no-hitter in major league postseason history in the opener.

In Atlanta, the Giants’ rally came after Eric Hinske had a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Braves a 2-1 lead.

Sanchez Score

With two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning, Freddy Sanchez singled to center field to put runners on first and second base. Aubrey Huff followed with a run-scoring single to tie the game. Buster Posey then hit a line drive that skipped between Conrad’s legs, allowing Sanchez to score.

“After a two-run homer in the eighth, that can take the wind out of your sails,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “These guys came right back and found a way to get it done. That is a great win.”

It was Conrad’s fourth error of the series, a Division Series record.

Conrad also dropped a Cody Ross fly ball in the top of the second, allowing Mike Fontenot to score and put the Giants up 1-0. Braves manager Bobby Cox said he isn’t sure if Conrad will be in the lineup when Atlanta hosts Game 4 tonight.

“I’ll have to sleep on it,” Cox said.

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