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Phils, Rox out for Game 1 momentum

Phils, Rox out for Game 1 momentum

PHILADELPHIA -- Its official title is Game 1 of the National League Division Series, but while visualizing Wednesday afternoon's matchup in Citizens Bank Park, you can't blame the Rockies and Phillies for referring to it as "Game 1 of the 2009 postseason" or even "Game 1 on the march to the World Series."

Both teams have myriad reasons for inflating the importance of a singular baseball game in the midst of what they hope will be 11-win October runs.

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The Phillies and Rockies each won their first games of the postseason en route to NL pennants and Fall Classic appearances the past two years. The Rox took down the Phils here in Game 1 of the NLDS in 2007, and the Phillies turned the trick on the Brewers here last season.

Looking back at those games and looking ahead to Wednesday, the saltiest veterans and the most fresh-faced rookies seem to agree: Game 1 isn't the be-all, end-all of a series, but it helps. A lot.

"It's huge," said Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, reminiscing about the 2008 Game 1 in which lefty Cole Hamels two-hit the Brewers over eight innings, Chase Utley drove in two runs with a third-inning double, and Philadelphia had made a statement that would lead to the franchise's first World Series crown in 28 years.

"You have to go out there and set the tone. It's all about getting that first one."

Hamels got that first one and went on to post a 4-0 record, a 1.80 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 35 innings over five postseason starts, adding the World Series Most Valuable Player trophy to that enormous, diamond-encrusted ring.

On Wednesday, it will be new Phillies lefty Cliff Lee getting the chance to get his team rolling.

"It can have a huge effect on the whole series, doing something like what Cole did last year in that first game," Phillies outfielder Matt Stairs said.

"He dominated, took the other team out of it, got our crowd into it, and let his defense and offense relax a little bit and focus more. By pitching an unbelievable game like he did, he changed the momentum early in that series."

And Hamels didn't do that in 2007, when lefty Jeff Francis shut down the Phillies in a 4-2 Colorado win that led to a series sweep.

By that time, of course, the Rockies were in the midst of a stunning tear that saw them win 21 of 22 games. The only thing that could stop them at that point, according to veteran slugger Todd Helton, was themselves.

"That year, Game 1 was very, very important, and I think it was a bigger Game 1 than this year," Helton said.

"That's because we had never been to the playoffs, and if we lost that game, it probably wouldn't have been a good thing for our psyches. But to go in there that day and play the same way we had been playing in the final games of the regular season leading up to it, it was just like, 'OK, no big deal, we can do this,' and we took it from there."

The Rockies haven't won 21 out of 22 this year, but they got close, taking 11 in a row and 17 of 18 when manager Clint Hurdle was replaced by bench coach Jim Tracy at the end of May.

They've carried that mojo all the way here, and now they're also carrying just enough postseason experience to know what to expect when Lee throws the first pitch and the pressure is amped up to 11.

Late-season addition Jason Giambi has been in so many Division Series that he can't remember all of them off-hand.

But one he does remember very well is 2001, when his A's won the first two games over the Yankees in New York, then came back home, lost two in a row, and went on to lose the deciding Game 5 in the Bronx.

"I've lost Game 1s and I've won Game 1s, and the most important thing to remember is that you have to play the way you played all season and don't change a thing," Giambi said.

"Usually in a five-game series, the hot team wins, and right now, this club has been very hot for a long time. I think that bodes well for us."

Giambi said he's been offering his time-tested advice to anyone who wants to pick his postseason brain.

And for a young guy such as rookie outfielder Dexter Fowler, who's never played in a Major League playoff game, it's comforting to be able to walk around the clubhouse and know that Giambi and most of Colorado's core remembers the unique taste of this rarefied autumn air.

"Ask around," Fowler said, pointing to the lockers surrounding him.

"Everyone knows what we're getting into. There are only eight teams left, so you know you have to play at the highest level now. And tomorrow we get the first one out of the way."

Fowler knows a little about pressure, having played on the 2008 United States Olympic team that mixed it up with international power Cuba and came home with a bronze medal. But he admits that this is daunting in a decidedly different way.

"I can't say how I'll handle it until tomorrow, but think I'll be OK," he said with a smile and then a laugh.

"OK. I'll definitely be a little nervous."

Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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