Charlie Manuel acted as if he had a secret.
"You can assume whatever you want to assume," the Phillies' manager said when asked whether Roy Halladay would pitch Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants. "We haven't had any discussions yet. We have a little time and we'll talk about what we want to do" with the rotation.
Perhaps it is unwise to assume, but if Halladay does not pitch Game 1 against the Giants, Manuel may be the first manager ever fired in the middle of a playoff run.
So, yes, we will assume that Saturday night, Halladay will face Giants ace Tim Lincecum in Game 1 at Citizens Bank Park. It is one of those dream matchups that even an offensive-minded manager like Manuel has to love.
"I can foresee a hell of a game," the manager said. "The one that pitches the best is going to win. I'd like to see it as long as Halladay wins. He's definitely capable of pitching good, and Lincecum is capable of pitching good, too. That's the part of the game people want to see, and they're excited about it."
The hitters from each team may not be quite as excited to see Lincecum and Halladay as the national television audience will be.
Lincecum has won the last two National League Cy Young Awards, and Halladay is the favorite to win it this season. Both aces pitched gems in their first career postseason starts in the openers of their respective National League division series. One night after Halladay fired the second postseason no-hitter in baseball history against Cincinnati, Lincecum struck out 14 in a two-hit shutout of Atlanta.
Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino said he watched Lincecum's shutout of the Braves and noticed that the Atlanta hitters helped the righthander by expanding the strike zone.
"He is definitely a different pitcher than when I first saw him and he first got to the big leagues," Victorino said. "He has definitely matured and is pitching differently. I think if you go back to how he's pitching now, you have to get him in the zone. He likes to sometimes pitch out of the strike zone and get you out of your zone of getting strikes. You have to find a way to get his pitch count up and go from there."
A National League scout said that only 44 percent of Lincecum's 119 pitches against the Braves were in the strike zone, but the Atlanta hitters consistently helped the unorthodox righthander by chasing balls.
"Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum, you can't compare the two," Victorino said. "Halladay is going to pummel the strike zone, and Lincecum is a guy who will come after you but get you to get out of your strike zone. At least that's what I was seeing in that start against Atlanta. He did throw a lot of balls out of the zone. But it's not that easy to say, 'I'm going to look in this box and he's going to throw the ball there and I'm going to hit it.' He's got so many pitches and he pitches so differently.
"If you were talking about three years ago, I'd look for the ball in the box, because he was a guy who threw 97 or 98 [m.p.h.] and he'd try to come right at you. Now he has a change-up and a good slider, and he still has a good fastball."
The Phillies beat the Giants in Lincecum's only start against them this season, but only after manager Bruce Bochy lifted the righthander with one out in the top of the ninth when he walked Victorino. Closer Brian Wilson blew the save, and the Phillies won the April 28 game in 11 innings.
It was still a dominant performance by Lincecum, who allowed three hits and struck out 11. The Phillies pounded Lincecum in two starts when he was a rookie in 2007, scoring 11 runs and hitting four home runs. In five starts since, Lincecum has a 2-1 record and a 1.45 ERA against them, allowing only 31 baserunners and striking out 43 batters in 371/3 innings.
Three Phillies pitchers - Joe Blanton, Roy Oswalt, and Kyle Kendrick - participated in a simulated game Tuesday at the ballpark. Manuel said Halladay would get ready for the Giants by throwing a couple of bullpen sessions.
Halladay does not have a great career track record against the Giants, although two of his three starts are ancient history. In three starts, the Phillies' ace is 0-2 with a 7.23 ERA against the Giants. The righthander pitched against San Francisco in 2002 and 2004 with Toronto. His only start against the Giants this season was his first loss in a Phillies uniform. On April 26, San Francisco scored five runs on 10 hits during a 5-1 win at AT&T Park.
Victorino has a theory about statistics.
"You can write that on a piece of paper, hand it to me, and I'll throw it in the trash," the centerfielder said. "It's a different time of year. It's a different atmosphere and a different experience."