Philadelphia Phillies (2-0) at Cincinnati Reds (0-2)
Cole Hamels (12-11, 3.06 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (12-7, 3.64 ERA)
Time: 8:07 p.m., Great American Ball Park
Weather: Clear, 73
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We’re on the precipice of history, here, Nation. Believe it or not, despite making 13 trips to the postseason, collecting seven pennants and two World Series titles along the way, the Phillies have never, not once, swept a playoff series. Tonight, Cole Hamels, who won the playoff MVP double in 2008, takes the ball in attempt to rectify that situation. So far, it’s taken some concentrated, if not not particularly consistent, hitting (plus a little help from the Reds’ defense) to beat Cincinnati twice. Almost all of the Phillies’ starters are hitting. The problem is that none of them are hitting particularly well–only Raul Ibanez has an OPS over .750. As the series turns to The Nasty ‘Natti, La Furia Roja will try to break out their bats against Johnny Cueto.
Seldom do Philly fans need a reason to boo an opposing pitcher lustily, but tonight’s Reds starter, Johnny Cueto, gives us a real doozy. Remember that benches-clearing fracas between the Reds and Cardinals a couple months back? It was one of the few baseball fights that looked more like a real fight than a baseball fight, which we all thought was awesome at the time. But what came to light later was that Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue suffered a concussion in the fight. LaRue is a member of that most likable of baseball fraternities, the light-hitting career backup catcher. In 12 major league seasons, LaRue didn’t contribute much of anything on the diamond, posting a .712 OPS in 922 games, but he was that hackneyed “calming veteran presence” on several teams, was erudite on camera, and, at least from what I’ve read, was well-liked well-respected throughout the sport. Guys like that tend to go on to become managers (for evidence, see Bruce Bochy, Buck Martinez, Joe Girardi, and, if you want to step into the wayback machine, Connie Mack).
Anyway, the last thing LaRue will do in a major league uniform is take a boot to the head. Remember that guy pressed up against the backstop, flinging his cleats wildly at anyone who approached? Johnny Cueto. One of his kicks caught LaRue on the head, and just like that, career over. So don’t feel bad if he gets lit up tonight.
In order for Cole Hamels to slam the door on Cincy’s collective fingers tonight, he’ll have to continue to keep the middle of their order in check. The Reds’ 3-4 hitters, presumptive ML MVP Joey Votto and former Phillie Scott Rolen, are a combined 1-for-13 in this series through two games, and with Brandon Phillips hitting well ahead of them (to say nothing of the removal of offensive albatross Orlando Cabrera from the lineup), it will be of paramount importance to Hamels and whatever relievers Uncle Cholly uses to keep Votto and Rolen from driving in those baserunners.
Oh, and I had forgotten about this little tidbit until @Utley4God brought it up on Twitter, but the last time Cueto and Hamels opposed each other, on July 6, 2009, Hamels allowed a Jonny Gomes solo homer and two other hits in seven innings of work. Cueto allowed nine earned runs on five hits (including a two-run double by Hamels himself) in only 2/3 of an inning. The Phils won that game 22-1.
Today’s Lineup: Victorino CF, Polanco 3B, Utley 2B, Howard 1B, Werth RF, Rollins SS, Ibanez LF, Ruiz C, Hamels P
Your gameday beer: Victory Storm King Stout
This beer gets the nod for three reasons: 1) the name 2) it’s a local beverage 3) it led to a good night in Ohio for me once, a tradition I trust the Phillies will follow this evening. I had been drinking Victory stouts for a while at the Draught Horse near Temple University when I went to pick up a six-pack for a party I was attending in Columbus. At this point, I didn’t know that Victory made two stouts: Donnybrook Stout (an Irish stout which, depending on my mood, I actually prefer to Guinness) and Storm King Stout (an Imperial stout). Excited to see a Philly Metro brewery’s wares on offer in Ohio, I picked up a sixer of the Storm King, unaware that, at 9.1% ABV, it has nearly three times the alcohol content of Donnybrook. What I expected to be a quiet night (for me, at least) turned into something of a rager. Here’s to unexpected ragers.