Commentary

Reds face nemesis in Game 2

Cincinnati unfazed despite past record against Phillies starter Roy Oswalt

Updated: October 8, 2010, 5:19 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- There isn't much the Cincinnati Reds know for sure about Game 2 of their National League Division Series. But they can count on this:

At least they won't have to face Roy Halladay in it -- unless he pinch-hits in the 19th inning or something.

So when asked, as the vibrations of Halladay's Game 1 October no-hit classic continued to rumble through the Reds' clubhouse, what his team's mindset was heading into Game 2 Friday, Jonny Gomes knew exactly what he was looking forward to most.

"Well," the Reds' left fielder deadpanned, "we start with: I'm glad he's not pitching."

Yeah, good point. But … now the bad news for the Reds: The guy who is pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday would be a gentleman named Roy Oswalt. Uh-oh.

That would be the very same Roy Oswalt who once beat the Reds 15 times in a row, is now up to 23-3 against them in his career and, just to pile on a little extra credit, has never lost a game in Citizens Bank Park (9-0, 2.10 ERA lifetime; 5-0, 1.76 since joining the Phillies).

But other than that, this ought to be practically a vacation after what the Reds saw in Game 1. After all, Oswalt has never no-hit them -- not even once.

"You know, I never thought I'd ever say I was looking forward to facing Roy Oswalt," said Reds third baseman Scott Rolen in the aftermath of that Halladay wipeout Wednesday. "But I guess that's where we are right now."

So on Thursday, we sought Rolen out to ask if he was sure this was what he really wanted to wish for. But he wasn't backing off -- if only because he's just about 100 percent certain that Oswalt can't possibly pitch better than the guy his team faced in Game 1.

"Oh God," Rolen laughed, "I hope not. I mean, what a selfish teammate that would be, for Roy Oswalt to take that away from Roy Halladay. I don't think he's that selfish. I think Roy Oswalt is a better guy than that, than to steal Halladay's thunder. So I'm going to go with that -- that he's a nicer guy than that."

[+] EnlargeRoy Oswalt
Howard Smith/US PresswireRoy Oswalt, 23-3 against the Reds for his career, is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA against them in 2010.
Yeah, that's the ticket -- the old Too Nice A Guy Theory. It may not be true, exactly. But when it's October and you're already down a game in a series where three losses send you home, you latch onto anything you can get.

But here, actually, is a way better theory for the Reds to latch onto: You know what happened to the Yankees back in 1956, in the game after the other no-hitter in postseason history -- Don Larsen's perfect game? They lost. That's what.

So the lesson of the day, kids, is this: Be very afraid of the use of the term "momentum" in October, because momentum can disappear faster than a Halladay changeup.

On Wednesday, the Reds and Phillies played a game that will reverberate through time for the rest of their lives. But now, for both of them, the postseason is ready to roll onward. So for each of these teams, Game 1 means exactly the same thing now:

It's over.

"The main thing is, you've got to forget yesterday," Reds manager Dusty Baker philosophized Thursday. "That's why it's called yesterday."

But how tough will it be for either team to put Game 1 in the rearview mirror as Game 2 looms? Let's take a look:

Beating Oswalt

It isn't easy to go 3-23 against any pitcher. In fact, in the history of baseball, only three teams have ever had a worse record against a pitcher who recorded 20 or more decisions against them -- Carl Mays (35-3) against the Athletics, Larry Jackson (21-2) against the Mets and Russ Meyer (24-3) against the Cubs. And not one of those guys has thrown a pitch in the past 40 years.

So in the division-play era, the Reds and their nemesis stand alone. But these Reds aren't too interested in the history of the division-play era. In fact, these Reds aren't too interested in anything Oswalt did against their franchise from 2001-08.

The only slice of Roy Oswalt's history the 2010 Reds are even remotely interested in is what's transpired over the past two years. Here's why:

From 2001-08, Oswalt kicked off his career by going 23-1 against the Reds. That stretch included a 15-game winning streak -- the longest against the Reds by any pitcher in the past seven decades.

But since 2009, this plot line has changed dramatically. Over the past two seasons, Oswalt has faced the Reds six times, all while he was still a member of the Astros. His team lost five of those six games. And this year, he went 0-2, with a 6.75 ERA, in two starts against the Reds.

So for some reason, the Reds like the sound of 2-0, and 5-1, a whole lot better than they enjoy that talk of 23-1.

"I think the bottom line is, we're a different team this year," said right fielder Jay Bruce, "and the fact that we have an approach that we have figured out that works for us, and that we're able to execute."

Plus, Bruce laughed, the odds were with them.

"We faced him, he beat us, 20 times," he said. "So I mean … time was on our side, I think."

Well, whatever was on their side, these Reds have less reason to fear Oswalt than the Ryan Freel/Wily Mo Pena/Austin Kearns/Adam Dunn edition of the Reds once did. Half of the Reds' position players who figure to start in Game 4 -- Joey Votto (10-for-30, four homers), Brandon Phillips (12-for-38), Laynce Nix (9-for-17, two homers) and Drew Stubbs (2-for-6, one homer) -- have lifetime averages against Oswalt of .300 or better. In other words, Oswalt won't have Wily Mo Pena to push around anymore.

"Different team now," said Baker. "We're a different team."

But can the Reds really hang three losses in one year on a guy they've beaten only three times in 34 starts? This, friends, is what makes this game must-see TV.

Is there life after no-nos?

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the field, it's time for the team that's leading this series to move on, too. The Phillies will never forget what happened on that baseball field in Game 1. But …

"Yesterday," said Jimmy Rollins on Thursday, "was yesterday."

Something special happened [Wednesday] night. ... But in this clubhouse, our mentality is about winning. And we know that as special as it might seem to everybody else, we still have something to accomplish here. And that's winning the whole thing.

-- Phillies reliever J.C. Romero

"We understand it was a great moment, and it's history," Rollins went on. "But the No. 1 goal is to win a World Series. So there's still work to be done."

You heard those words all over the Phillies' clubhouse Thursday: There's still work to be done. These men know the magnitude of what they experienced Wednesday. But they can also count to one, and it's a good thing -- because no matter how they calculate it, that's how many games they won Wednesday: Only one.

"Something special happened [Wednesday] night," said reliever J.C. Romero. "Something special in the game of baseball. Something people will always remember. But in this clubhouse, our mentality is about winning. And we know that as special as it might seem to everybody else, we still have something to accomplish here. And that's winning the whole thing."

On an unforgettable Wednesday night, they soaked in the emotion of a great moment in time. But over these past two Octobers, on their journey to back-to-back World Series, they've had other games, other victories, other moments that were just as emotional: "The Matt Stairs Game" in the 2008 NLCS, and Rollins' walk-off double in the 2009 NLCS, to name two.

And apparently, this team knows something about the art of storing those emotions and moving on to play another game -- because after both of those games, the Phillies came back to win the game that followed, too.

They play for a manager who constantly preaches: "Live in the moment. Win tonight." And when Charlie Manuel preaches, his team believes it's supposed to follow orders.

"Follow your leader," Romero said. "Stay in the moment. Play for today. Tomorrow's another day. Whatever happened that previous day, you enjoyed it. And if you want to dwell on it for a while, you have the right to do it. But the next day's a new day."

And for the Phillies, this particular new day brings them a date with the Reds' Game 2 starter, Bronson Arroyo -- a 17-game winner this year and one of just five pitchers who have won 15-plus in each of the past three seasons. (The others: Halladay, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester and Tim Lincecum.)

But Arroyo has some history of his own to conquer in this game. The last time Arroyo beat the Phillies was -- ready? -- 10 years ago (on July 22, 2000). He's made four starts against them since as a member of the Red Sox and Reds -- and gone 0-4, with an 8.10 ERA.

And now he has to face a pitcher, in Oswalt, who has been on one of the great rolls of his career. Until last week in Washington, the Phillies had won 10 straight games Oswalt had started -- only the third time they've won 10 games in a row that anybody started in the past 90 years. So if you think Oswalt is feeling sorry for himself that he has such a tough act to follow in Halladay's no-hit epic, uh, guess again.

"It's not a tough act at all," Rollins said. "They've been doing this all year. I think they actually enjoy it."

So how, Rollins was asked, would he like to be in the Reds' position in this series -- down, 1 game to 0, still hitless in this series and about to face a pitcher they're 3-23 against? He shook his head emphatically.

"How would I like to be in their position?" Jimmy Rollins chuckled. "Hey, I'm just glad I'm not."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com