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Phillies riding momentum into NLDS

Phillies riding momentum into NLDS

PHILADELPHIA -- Now, the season begins.

Forget the long and incredibly winding journey that brought a National League East title to Philadelphia, and the historic collapse 90 minutes to the northeast by the Mets that merits a huge assist. Erase from your mind the Phillies' 4-11 start, the numerous injuries to key players and a pitching staff that compiled the highest ERA (4.76) among playoff participants, and 13th overall in the NL.

The Phils trailed the Mets by seven games on Sept. 12, then roared back, winning 13 of their final 17 games. The Mets squandered the lead by going 5-12, becoming the first team in Major League history to blow a seven-game lead with 17 games to play.

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Such details matter little. The Phillies, who won 89 games, have ridden a major wave of momentum and arrived in the postseason for the first time since 1993, and host the Rockies in Game 1 of the NL Division Series on Wednesday at Citzens Bank Park.

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins was right when he declared Philadelphia the team to beat in the NL East back in January. So are the Phillies the team to beat now?

"We'll see," Rollins said, with a laugh. "Every team is a tough team to beat right now. Everybody is at zero [wins] and it's a sprint to 11. You win 11 games and you take the ring home. The way we played the last three or four games, we're going to be a force in the playoffs. But you have to play that way. You have to win with pitching, play good defense and hit. No one wins if you don't score runs."

Scoring runs hasn't been a problem for either team. The Phillies hit .274 scored the most runs this season with 892, 41 more than the Rockies, who finished second.

Each team boasts an MVP candidate in Rollins and Colorado left fielder Matt Holliday, along with impressive supporting casts that includes Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Rowand, Pat Burrell for Philadelphia and Brad Hawpe, Troy Tulowitzi and Todd Helton for Colorado.

But now, all batting averages and ERAs are reset.

"You play every year expecting to get to the playoffs," Rowand said. "And you don't let up once you get there."

The Phillies dropped the season series to the Rockies, going 3-4. They split a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park and Philadelphia lost two of three at Coors Field.

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In the seven head-to-head games, Colorado hitters scored 46 runs against Philadelphia and batted .328. The Phillies hit .266 against the Rockies, while scoring 36 runs.

Philadelphia posted a 6.40 ERA against Colorado this season, while Rockies pitchers sported a 5.04 ERA against the Phils.

After ace lefty Cole Hamels, the Phillies will likely start rookie Kyle Kendrick and veteran Jamie Moyer in Games 2 and 3. While Hamels and Kendrick have never been to the postseason, Moyer has gone three times, all with the Mariners.

"It's amazing how life comes full circle," said Moyer, a Pennsylvania native who famously skipped school to attend Philadelphia's 1980 World Series victory parade. "I remember 1980 like it was yesterday. That Phillies team was incredible. I can't believe so much time has flown by. To still be playing at my age and playing at a high level is something I can't describe. To [win] in Philadelphia, well, it doesn't get any better. It's really thrilling to know we're going to the playoffs and vying for a World [Series] championship."

The Phillies reached this point by finding creative ways to overcome their issues.

When reliever Tom Gordon was out with shoulder problems and pneumonia, Brett Myers, who already had moved to the bullpen, converted six of seven save chances. When Myers got hurt on May 23, Antonio Alfonseca saved eight of his 11 chances and compiled a 2.12 ERA during that stretch.

Greg Dobbs batted .378 in 12 games as Howard's replacement in May, and parlayed that into regular playing time at third. Jayson Werth took a similar path in right field, subsidizing the loss of Shane Victorino.

Freddy Garcia's right shoulder injury -- after a 1-5 record and a 5.90 ERA -- led to Kendrick's emergence, while Jon Lieber's foot injury resulted in some effective outings by J.D. Durbin and eventually the acquisition of Kyle Lohse at the July 31 trade deadline. The Phillies went 9-4 in Lohse's 13 starts.

Tadahito Iguchi has mostly pinch-hit since Utley returned from a broken right hand, but it's difficult to ignore Iguchi's .301 average, five steals and flawless defense in 27 games in Utley's stead.

There's more, but none of it matters. The Phillies are in the playoffs.

And now the season begins.

"We have to win 11 more games," Gordon said. "Then we can celebrate."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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