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Playoff-hardened Phillies a loose, confident bunch

PHILADELPHIA — With three proven pitching aces, it's World Series or bust in Philadelphia. Nothing less is acceptable in a city that has become spoiled by the Phillies' success.

They are trying to become the first NL club in 66 years to win three consecutive pennants, and they're going for their second World Series title in three years.

Oddsmakers have made them an overwhelming favorite to beat the Giants in the NL Championship Series that begins Saturday, and they also give them an edge over the Yankees or Rangers in the World Series.

"It's a good challenge for you. Expectations should bring out the best in someone," manager Charlie Manuel said Thursday. "At the same time, I like players to have expectations of themselves. That's even better. I like everything about our players, and we think we can play and we think we can play in big, tough games. Last year when we got beat in the World Series, I said I want to go back and play the New York Yankees."

For some players, higher expectations increase pressure. But the Phillies are a loose, close-knit group that has plenty of experience playing important games in October.

"It's a confident team, not an arrogant team," LF Raul Ibanez said.

The Phillies will stick with the same order for their rotation as they had for the division series. RHP Roy Halladay will start Game 1 against Giants RHP Tim Lincecum. Halladay will be followed by RHP Roy Oswalt and LHP Cole Hamels.

Some thought was given to flipping Oswalt and Hamels because Hamels has struggled at AT&T Park, going 2-1 with a 6.12 ERA in four starts. Oswalt is 3-6 in 10 career starts at AT&T Park, but his ERA is 4.18 there.

"I like Cole pitching in AT&T Park," Manuel said. "I like it because of the size of the park and whatever. I feel very confident with him pitching there."

Manuel said RHP Joe Blanton is likely to pitch Game 4. But the Phillies could turn to Halladay on three days' rest depending on where the series stands.

Giants: LF Pat Burrell, who started this season as a Ray, was a big part of Philadelphia's championship team in 2008. He played for the Phillies when they were swept by Colorado a year earlier after ending a 13-year postseason drought. He sees his current team as being ahead of schedule because the Giants not only made it in but they advanced.

"That's why this team is so special," Burrell said. "A lot of the guys haven't been to the postseason before, pivotal guys on our team. The way that the guys have performed under the pressure having not been there before is incredible. It makes for a pretty special group."

Wooing Lee: Whichever team wins the ALCS could get more than a trip to the World Series. They also could have the inside track on signing Cliff Lee.

After being traded three times in 1½ years, Lee gets to decide where he goes next as a free agent this offseason. Texas and New York are likely to be on his short list — the Rangers because he's already their ace, the Yankees because they likely will offer him the most money.

"I don't really get caught up in that at all, to be honest with you," Lee said. "… We're going to try to win a World Series ring. That's where my focus is."

Ticket watch: The average asking price for the games at the Phillies' Citizens Bank Park is $522, according to The average asking price is $386 in San Francisco, $306 in Arlington, Texas, and $275 at Yankee Stadium.

Yankees: The team is blocking Mary Jane Elster, 77, from publishing letters written to her from a college-age George Steinbrenner more than a half-century ago. Elster wanted to use the letters in a book about her friendship with Steinbrenner. The Yankees owner died in July at age 80. Michael Shriner, her son, said team chief operating officer Lonn Trost "could not have been more of a bully" in refusing permission.

Other baseball

Uecker surgery: Brewers radio announcer Bob Uecker, 75, will have surgery Tuesday on his heart again after a tear was discovered at the site of his valve replacement. Doctors believe the recent tear is due to a staph infection after his April surgery.

Keough sentenced: Former All-Star P Matt Keough was sentenced to a year in jail for driving drunk near his Orange County, Calif., home. Keough got 194 days of credit for time served and good behavior.

Playoff-hardened Phillies a loose, confident bunch 10/14/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 14, 2010 10:31pm]
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