© 2010 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
PrintPrint

10/17/10 6:52 PM ET

Pitching pivotal for Phils, Giants in Game 3

The National League Championship Series has changed in just about every way, but the main storyline remains the same.

The NLCS has traveled from the City of Brotherly Love to the City by the Bay, from a haven for hitters to one of the more pitcher-friendly confines in the Majors. It even has switched from nighttime drama to postseason baseball under the California sun.

Except, really, nothing has changed as Game 3 approaches with the series tied. 1-1.

This remains a series that will be very much dictated by starting pitching, and two excellent arms will be on the hill when Matt Cain toes the rubber for the host Giants against left-hander Cole Hamels and the Phillies.

Though AT&T Park provides a decidedly different backdrop than Citizens Bank Park well beyond the red sea of Phillies fans vs. the orange wave of Giants faithful in the stands, it's still the postseason, and Hamels is an expert in October success.

"Postseason is where it's at," said Hamels, who improved to 6-3 with a 3.36 ERA over 11 postseason starts with his NL Division Series-clinching victory over the Reds. "It's the ultimate time to really show what type of player you are, the type of pitcher you are and, really, to obviously enjoy the type of moment, because not too many guys will ever get to experience this."

In contrast to Hamels, Cain is coming off only his first career postseason appearance. Cain wasn't the pitcher of record in the Giants' only loss of the opening-round victory over the Braves. He had a three-run lead upon leaving Game 2 with two outs in the seventh after allowing a single to Omar Infante. Cain did his job just as manager Bruce Bochy expected him to do, but the Braves recovered to win, 5-4, on Rick Ankiel's 11th-inning homer.

Like Hamels, Cain has had moments in his career when his offense hasn't given him a lot to work with, and the team averaged just 4.03 runs of support this season -- a step up from a career low of 3.14 in 2008. Cain chooses to take the positives out of not getting a ton of support.

"You get used to pitching in tight ballgames like this," Cain said. "Cole is going to go out there, throw the ball well, and you're expecting that to be a tight series and a good pitching matchup. So you get used to pitching in close ballgames and understanding when the 'big pressure' parts of the game kind of come about."

As the series shifts from cozy Citizens Bank Park to AT&T Park, the expectation for offense is even more stunted than it already was with this battle of top-flight pitching staffs.

A pitchers' park that has only made the Majors' best pitching staff better, AT&T Park has not been a particularly friendly place for Hamels, to the tune of a 6.12 career ERA. And the left-leaning Phillies won't be so cozy either, with a corner in right-center pulling the gap there to 421 feet, with a 30-foot wall running toward right field. A lefty pull hitter can still do damage, but it's not the most inviting place for left-handers to bat.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel looks at it more from a defensive standpoint, since the outfield is so spacious and has numerous nooks and corners.

"I think it gets down to the fact that you definitely can't make mistakes in the outfield," Manuel said. "I think if you do, you're going to be in trouble."

With the Phillies batting .212 for the postseason thus far, Manuel might go with the same lineup he had in Game 2 -- saying on Monday that the flip of Chase Utley to No. 2 and Placido Polanco to No. 3 "worked out pretty good." And it's a safe bet that Jimmy Rollins will remain in the lineup somewhere after his bases-clearing double in the seventh inning on Sunday.

Rollins, who went 3-for-3 against Cain in an 8-2 Phillies victory in August, is a Bay Area native who isn't lacking for confidence as he battles through a 3-for-18 postseason.

"You lose confidence in yourself and you'll be going home," Rollins said. "And I don't plan on doing that any time soon."

Bochy, meanwhile, figures to make perhaps multiple changes to his lineup, which could include the reappearance of Pablo Sandoval in lieu of Mike Fontenot at third base and Andres Torres being dropped out of the leadoff spot, or out of the lineup altogether in favor of the veteran Aaron Rowand. Sandoval is 3-for-10 with a homer against Hamels for his career, with Fontenot 0-for-2, Torres 1-for-3 with a double and Rowand 3-for-15 with a triple.

"At this time, numbers are nice to look at, the stats against certain pitchers, but you also want to go with who is swinging well or who may be struggling," Bochy said.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


MLB.com