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Dominant pitching has Phillies smiling

The Philadelphia Phillies celebrate after beating the Cincinnati Reds 2-0 in Game 3. (Associated Press)
The Philadelphia Phillies celebrate after beating the Cincinnati Reds 2-0 in Game 3. (Associated Press)

PHILADELPHIA – Spraying champagne in the visitors’ clubhouse after the first postseason sweep in franchise history was merely a ritual for the Philadelphia Phillies.

They won’t really celebrate unless they win the World Series.

“We haven’t accomplished anything. It’s not about getting to an NLCS, it’s winning a World Series,” first baseman Ryan Howard said.

The Phillies moved a step closer to becoming the first N.L. team in 66 years to win three consecutive pennants by beating Cincinnati three straight in the division series. Now they’ll wait to face San Francisco or Atlanta in the N.L. Championship Series. Game 1 is Saturday at Citizens Bank Park.

Since losing to the New York Yankees in six games in last year’s World Series, the Phillies have been determined to get back and win it all for the second time in three years. Nothing less is acceptable for an organization better known for losing – the Phillies have lost more games than any team in pro sports.

But that’s in the past. This club is potentially in the middle of a dynasty. The Phillies have captured four straight N.L. East titles, they won the World Series in 2008 and are four wins from their third pennant in a row.

That’s why players treated Sunday night’s series-clinching 2-0 victory over the Reds like an ordinary game. They shook hands on the field, exchanged some high-fives, chest bumps and fist pumps, then kept the party low-key in the locker room.

“We’re looking to validate the season. We want to win the World Series,” shortstop Jimmy Rollins said.

With Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels anchoring the pitching staff, Philadelphia is favored to win another title. Halladay and Hamels were dominant against the Reds and will be well rested before pitching mound again.

Halladay opened the first round with the second no-hitter in postseason history in his playoff debut. Oswalt followed with a so-so effort by his standards. Hamels, the World Series MVP in ’08, then finished it with his first career postseason shutout.

“We have three guys who are at the top of their game,” Rollins said. “This is the best starting pitching we’ve had in a long time.”

Halladay waited his whole career for this opportunity. He spent 12 years in Toronto playing in a division that was controlled by the Yankees and Boston. The seven-time All-Star so desperately wanted to come to Philadelphia that he passed up a chance to test free agency after the season and signed a $60 million, three-year extension – far less than what he could’ve received on the open market.

But Halladay isn’t worried about money or individual accomplishments. He wants a ring.

“For everybody here, the ultimate goal is to get to the World Series. This is the first step. We’re all looking to get to the end,” Halladay said.

The Phillies are the hottest team playing right now. They’re 30-8 since getting swept by Houston at home in a four-game series in late August.

They also have everyone back healthy. Injuries were a major problem during the regular season. Six of the eight regulars spent time on the disabled list, including significant stints for Rollins and Chase Utley.

If no one gets hurt during workouts this week, the Phillies will have their eight regulars in the starting lineup for the third straight game for the first time this year when the NLCS opens.

It appears the only thing that could possibly slow down Philadelphia is the long layoff. Manager Charlie Manuel isn’t concerned about having five days off, however. The Phillies had six days off before beating Tampa Bay in five games in the ’08 World Series.

“A lot of times I hear in the playoffs or the Series or whatever, you know, when you got a long layoff, people say, ‘Does it bother you?’ ” Manuel said. “That’s the old standby. If you do good, they say the layoff didn’t hurt you. I think you know us. I don’t think we’re going to start making excuses.”

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