Giants ace their test against Phils' aces

Giants ace their test against Phils' aces

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants are oozing with confidence. They've beaten two of the Phillies' vaunted three aces and have the two-time defending National League champs reeling.

Walk into the noisy Giants clubhouse after Tuesday's 3-0 victory in Game 3 -- which put them up 2-1 in the NL Championship Series -- and the unspoken message is they own this best-of-seven tournament.


They made a loser of Roy Halladay in Game 1, and in the cool, but pleasant, sunshine at AT&T Park on Tuesday afternoon, they took care of lefty Cole Hamels.

This San Francisco juggernaut, with its patchwork lineup and great pitching, is turning out to be a team of destiny. The Giants came in as underdogs and have every right to believe they're going to leave as champions.

Confidence is the buzzword on both sides.

Two of San Francisco's aces -- Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain -- did what they were supposed to do. Halladay and Hamels failed.

"No question [beating two of their aces] does a lot for the confidence on this club," said manager Bruce Bochy. "Really, the only way you beat good pitching is you've got to pitch well, too. Our guys are doing that.

"There's a sense of confidence when you're going against such a great team and outstanding pitching. You find a way to win, and that does a lot for them."

But when you talk about confidence, if it's propelling the Giants and making them believe in themselves, the reverse is that the Phillies have lost it when it comes to their hitting.

That they've been scuffling at the plate will be a nagging thought when they take the field for Game 4 on Wednesday night. They may push the button and get no response.

"I would say tomorrow is the biggest game we've played so far," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Tuesday. "Today was the biggest game, but tomorrow becomes bigger."

The Phillies have always been able to turn it on when they have to. Whether they'll be able to do that now is a huge question.

Maybe the old adage that good pitching stops good hitting is true, but consider this: Since the eighth inning of the second NL Division Series game, the Phillies are 2-for-27 with runners in scoring position.

They're making feeble attempts to bring their runners home. This has been a problem that has haunted the Phillies most of the 2010 season, even though they won more games (97) than any other Major League team. The offense has not come close to duplicating its output in 2008 and '09.

The Phils were shut out in five of Hamels' starts during the regular season. Tuesday's setback left him 4-1 in five postseason starts.

The way the Phillies are swinging the bats, I believe there's a good chance this series won't go back to Philadelphia, and the World Series will open in San Francisco on Oct. 27.

Cain had never beaten the Phillies before Tuesday. He was 0-3 in five regular-season starts, with a 6.23 ERA.

During seven superb innings, however, he allowed just two singles, the last with one out in the fourth inning. Add Jimmy Rollins' ninth-inning single off reliever Brian Wilson and that was it.

"Like we always talk about, he made the pitch at the right time to get people out," lamented Manuel. "And we couldn't score on him. We didn't hit him. We didn't hit many balls hard."

After losing, 6-1, in Game 2, Bochy shuffled his lineup for Game 3. He put Edgar Renteria in the leadoff spot, and the 35-year-old infielder rewarded his skipper by breaking up Hamels' no-hitter with a single leading off the fourth inning. He later scored the first run on Cody Ross' two-out single. The amazing Ross now has driven in the go-ahead run five times this postseason.

"He's been battling and hitting pitches that most normal people can't hit at this time," said Hamels. "I don't know too many guys who can lift that pitch [down and away] up and over the third baseman."

Aaron Rowand got a spot start in center field. He doubled and scored the third run on Freddy Sanchez's grounder that bounced off Chase Utley's glove in the fifth.

There had been ongoing speculation that Manuel might bring 21-game winner Halladay back on three days' rest in Game 4 if the Phillies were down, 2-1.

Manuel shot down that possibility Tuesday night, saying Joe Blanton will definitely be the Game 4 starter against Giants rookie Madison Bumgarner.

Using Halladay on Wednesday would have been a poor decision. That would have disrupted the rotation should this series go seven games, forcing the other two aces to also work on three days' rest unless Blanton starts one of the games.

And it would make no sense at all to have Halladay pitch Game 4 and Blanton Game 5, which conceivably could be even more important.

"It will be our fourth-best pitcher against their fourth-best pitcher. That doesn't change," said Rollins. "They took the first game at our place, and we came back to win the second. The program's the same. We have to make sure we get back to even and finally get a number of games back to back without any breaks, get some rhythm."

There's a quiet confidence about Bochy. He's trying to downplay the unexpected position the Giants are in.

"It's a 2-1 lead," he said. "That's what it is. We have a lot of baseball left. We're playing a great team and we've got to come out here and play our best."

Nobody in the winners' den said it, but when you can beat Halladay and Hamels, take a 2-1 lead against the NL's best team and handcuff its offense, that's more than a good omen.

It's how you win a pennant when you're not supposed to.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.