CINCINNATI (AP) — Scott Rolen ended it with a swing and a miss that was as fitting as it was frustrating.
Three games, a whole lot of nothing.
The two-time defending NL champion Philadelphia Phillies swept the Reds right out of the playoffs on Sunday night with a 2-0 victory. The league’s top offense again failed to do anything against one of the Phillies’ trio of aces, this time getting shut down by Cole Hamels’ five-hitter.
Back in the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, the Reds strung together three ugly losses that left them wondering how this could happen, and happen so fast.
The NL’s top regular-season offense managed only 11 hits in three games — the fewest for a team in a postseason series, according to STATS LLC. The previous low was 13 by Texas against the New York Yankees in 1998.
“It’s a little higher level because it’s the playoffs,” said Joey Votto, who grounded into a double play in the ninth. “Every pitch, your back’s against the wall.”
The Reds hadn’t been in the playoffs since 1995, when they reached the NL championship series only to get swept by Atlanta because they couldn’t handle the Braves’ sensational rotation. Finally back in the postseason, they left with nothing to show for it again except some souvenir white towels.
The Reds were virtual newcomers to the postseason, and the few playoff veterans in the clubhouse — shortstop Orlando Cabrera among them — wondered aloud how Cincinnati’s core of young players would react to all the twirling towels and tingling moments.
Not very well at all.
Cincinnati couldn’t get a hit off Roy Halladay in the series opener, only the second no-hitter in postseason history. The Reds couldn’t catch or accurately throw the ball in Game 2, committing four errors that helped the Phillies rally for a 7-4 win and a 2-0 lead.
“I think the next time we’re in Game 2 and we’re up 4-0, we’ll say,’We’ve been here before and let’s close it out,’” Votto said.
Back home, the Reds tried to dip into their illustrious past to keep the present going. Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, the second baseman on the Big Red Machine of the 1970s, threw a ceremonial first pitch. Thousands of white towels were twirling in their favor this time at Great American Ball Park.
Couldn’t stop them from getting wiped out again.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when you worked so hard since spring training to get to this point,” manager Dusty Baker said.
Baker’s biggest move in Game 3 quickly backfired. Cabrera aggravated pulled muscles in his left side during Game 2 and was forced to leave, so the Reds considered replacing him on the playoff roster with defensive specialist Paul Janish.
Cabrera took batting practice Sunday and reported that he was OK to play. Baker put him in the lineup, and it cost the Reds.
Cabrera sailed a throw high to first base for an error that let in an unearned run in the first inning, then raised his left shoulder to stretch out the troublesome side.
Given how the offense was struggling, it was a huge deficit already.
The Reds led the NL in most major offensive categories despite fading down the stretch because several players were limited by injuries. Rolen had a balky back and two homers since Aug. 1. Second baseman Brandon Phillips had a bruised hand. Cabrera had the injured side. Jay Bruce had an abdominal strain.
It caught up with them in the playoffs. Rolen went 1 for 11 with eight strikeouts in the series, moving stiffly and swinging slowly. Cabrera went 0 for 3 with a strikeout on Sunday.
Votto, a leading contender for NL MVP, really struggled. He didn’t get much to hit and managed only a single in 10 at-bats. He failed to get the ball out of the infield Sunday, grounding into a double play in the ninth following Phillips’ leadoff single.
“We struggled at the plate,” Rolen said. “I struggled, obviously. We didn’t have the series that we wanted to have. That’s not the way you wanted to go.”
Even Bruce lost his touch. The right fielder sent the Reds to the playoffs with a leadoff homer in the ninth inning of the regular-season clincher. Given a chance to tie it in the seventh with a runner aboard, he flied out against Hamels.
Bruce also lost a line drive in the lights in Philadelphia, allowing the Phillies to rally for their Game 2 win and take control of a series that wasn’t much of a contest.
Underscoring Cincinnati’s futility: The Reds were shut out in four of their last five games against the Phillies this year.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.