ST. LOUIS (AP) - Favorites to win it all, the Philadelphia Phillies are banking on Cole Hamels' big-game background in St. Louis.
The 27-year-old lefty was the 2008 World Series MVP and has six career postseason victories heading into a Game 3 matchup today against the Cardinals and Jaime Garcia. With the best-of-five series tied at one apiece, this is not a stage likely to rattle Hamels.
"He's got that instinct when he gets on the mound, that put-'em-away instinct," teammate Hunter Pence said Monday. "The big-moment pitcher."
The youngest member of an all-world rotation seemed pretty calm heading into a pivotal start. Besides the postseason experience, half of his 14 victories came on the road this year.
"Every time I go out I try to win, no matter what the circumstance is - five games, seven games, three games or one game," Hamels said. "It's just going out there. I know I have a job to do."
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel expects a loose, confident team behind Hamels.
"This is supposed to be a lot of fun," Manuel said. "It's up to us to get it done, but at the same time play nice and relaxed."
His players, at least most of them, can lean on their extensive postseason experience. The Phillies have won the NL East the last five years.
"It makes it a lot easier on me, this being my first playoff series," Pence said. "All these guys have been through it and everyone's very poised.
"This team has a lot of poise, a lot of confidence and a lot of calmness."
A potential red flag for Hamels: a spotty September in which he allowed nine home runs in 38 innings. He said some were poor pitches and some were the result of good hitting, and realizes it's time to dial it in.
"Anytime in the postseason, one pitch can really decide the fate of a game," Hamels said. "But at the same time, I'm going to be aggressive."
A travel day gave the Cardinals a welcome chance to recharge their bullpen. Six relievers helped St. Louis tie the series Sunday night, and if Garcia falters in his first postseason appearance, there's plenty of arms manager Tony La Russa can count on.
The Phillies held a late afternoon workout, about an hour after the start time for Game 3. Shadows could be a factor, especially early, with the pitcher in sunlight and the plate in shadows.
"Not much you can do about it," La Russa said. "It's just a fact of postseason baseball, and even some regular-season games."
The Cardinals' lineup again is likely to be minus cleanup man Matt Holliday, who visited a specialist for inflammation on his right middle finger that makes it painful to throw or grip a bat. La Russa was pessimistic, noting Holliday was in a lot of pain after striking out as a pinch-hitter to end Game 1.
Allen Craig would get the start in place of Holliday. He's played right field the first two games, with Lance Berkman moving to left field and sliding down one slot to cleanup.
The wild-card Cardinals, who qualified on the final day of the season, are very much alive because of the hitters who kept attacking Cliff Lee to erase a four-run deficit in Game 2, and because of the pitchers who picked up the pieces after ace Chris Carpenter faltered while pitching on three days' rest for the first time in the opener.
"The most important thing was it created a series," La Russa said. "I mean, we go down 2-0, I mean as optimistic as we are, that's a big, big hole."
De facto closer Jason Motte, a former catcher with a high-90s fastball, needed just nine pitches for a four-out save that silenced a record crowd at Citizens Bank Park in a 5-4 victory on Sunday night. Fernando Salas, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, Mitchell Boggs and Arthur Rhodes allowed just one hit in 4 2/3 innings combined.
"The great thing about that game is every reliever deserves a piece of that win," La Russa said. "If one of the guys had had a bad day, we lose."
Because Carpenter threw only 64 pitches, theoretically he'll be better prepared if the series goes to five games. Having the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner available for two games was the reasoning behind the decision to use him in Game 2.
Garcia (13-7, 3.56 ERA) had nine of his victories at home and recovered from a rough August (0-2, 6.84) with a stellar September (3-0, 2.64). He allowed one earned run in 15 innings in two starts against the Phillies this year with no decisions and is 2-1 with 1.20 ERA for his career against them, holding them to a .178 average.
"He's very deceptive," Phillies cleanup hitter Ryan Howard said. "He's got a weird kind of release, and he mixes it up pretty well."