(Sports Network) – The National League Championship Series kicks off this evening with about as good of a pitching matchup as you will ever find, as Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay squares off against San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum in Game 1 of the best-of-seven set from Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies, who are vying to become the first NL team to reach the World Series in three straight years since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals, entered the postseason on the heels of their fourth straight National League East title.
Philadelphia overcame a ton of injuries in its lineup this season to post 97 wins to finish with the best record in major league baseball for the first time in franchise history.
Expectations were raised even further following a three-game sweep of the NL Central-champion Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS that started with the second no-hitter in postseason history courtesy of Halladay in his postseason debut.
Halladay was simply magnificent in his start, as the ultra-talented right- hander joined the Yankees’ Don Larsen as the only pitchers to ever throw a no- hitter in postseason play.
The 33-year-old threw 104 pitches, 79 for strikes, and his only blemish in the contest was a two-out walk to Jay Bruce in the fifth inning. He struck out eight and also drove in a run with a single to cap his finest performance since tossing a perfect game at Florida on May 29.
After 12 years in Toronto, Halladay was traded to the Phillies this past offseason and was nothing short of brilliant. He finished the regular season with a 21-10 mark to go along with a 2.44 ERA. He also led the majors in complete games (nine), shutouts (four) and innings (250 2/3).
“I don’t look at it as pressure,” Halladay said. "I look at it as a challenge, you know, something to look forward to. Getting to this point, you put in so much work to get here that once you do it’s been nothing but excitement.
“You don’t feel like there’s a certain standard to have to live up to. I feel like I need to go out and pitch the way that I normally pitch, execute pitches and be aggressive.”
Halladay, though, has struggled in his career against the Giants, going 0-2 with a 7.23 ERA in three starts. It was the Giants who handed him his first NL loss back on April 26.
A cause for concern, though, could be the Phillies’ lineup, which hit just .212 in the sweep of the Reds. Luckily, they will be facing a Giants team that also hit at a .212 clip in their four-game NLDS win over the Atlanta Braves.
Still and all, San Francisco is back in the NLCS for the first time since winning the NL pennant in 2002 following its 3-2 win over the Braves on Monday at Turner Field.
“This series had everything,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Just the intensity and excitement of the series, it had to be thrilling for the fans. There was never an easy moment for [Braves manager] Bobby [Cox] or myself, because these games could have gone either way. We were fortunate to have come out on top. We know it.”
Countering Halladay will be Lincecum, who was just as dominant in his playoff debut. The two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner tied a major league record for the most strikeouts in the first postseason start of a career with 14.
“My approach on this game is the same as any other start,” Lincecum said Friday. “Obviously it’s a big game. But I don’t want to get too over-amped.”
The 26-year-old Lincecum was winless in August, but rebounded by winning five of his last six outings of the regular season before his dominating Game 1 performance.
Lincecum has faced the Phillies seven times and is 2-1 with a 3.17 ERA against them and has fanned 54 batters in 48 1/3 innings.
The Phillies split their six matchups with the Giants this season and since the start of the 2000 campaign, the teams are 36-36 against one another.
Despite both teams being original NL franchises, this is the first-ever postseason meeting between the two.