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Hologram of Ba'al: Phillies at Reds, Sept. 23-25

Sept. 23: Phillies 11, Reds 10 WP: Rheal Cormier (4-2) LP: David Weathers (7-4)
Sept. 24: Phillies 2, Reds 3 WP: Eric Milton (8-14) LP: Eude Brito (1-2)
Sept. 25: Phillies 6, Reds 3 WP: Cory Lidle (12-11) LP: Randy Keisler (2-1)

Considering the ancient vintage of these two clubs--the Reds, baseball's oldest still-extant franchise, began play in 1876, with the Phillies putting down roots seven years later--it's striking how rarely their paths have crossed in terms of big games.

Then again, considering how those meetings have generally gone for the Phils, maybe this is for the best. Forty-one years and two days ago, for instance, the Reds posted a 1-0 victory over Gene Mauch's Phillies when a catcher named Chico Ruiz stole home for the game's only run; less than two weeks later, the 1964 Phillies had earned an unenviable place in baseball history, and a generation of Philadelphia baseball fans had incurred scars that wouldn't heal for 16 more years. In 1976, the Big Red Machine tossed aside the upstart Phils in the NLCS en route to Cincy's second straight championship. And in 2003, the Reds took two of three games in a late-September series that knocked the Phils out of the wild-card lead and set them on the path to ruin. Todd van Poppel, near the end of his supremely disappointing career, scattered four hits over 6 1/3 in the first of those two games to earn the win; he'd notch just five more in the big leagues.

Can the Reds do it to the Phils again in 2005? They might be playing only for pride and individual numbers, but this is a very dangerous lineup. Ken Griffey Jr. is out for the rest of the season after clubbing 35 home runs this season, but Adam Dunn (37 HR), Felipe Lopez, Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena are all plenty dangerous even without the future Hall of Famer. In fact, the Reds have nine players with double-digit home run totals this season. Add in a great leadoff man in Ryan Freel and rising third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, and it's easy to see how the Reds rank among the league's best offensive attacks.

On the mound, though, it's been a very different story. The Phils see Cincinnati's best pitcher, Aaron Harang, in Friday's opener; he and Brandon Claussen (one of three former Yankee farmhands in the Cincy rotation) provide some foundation of hope for long-suffering Reds fans. Harang boasts a fine K/BB ratio of 156/50 and has held opponents to a .254 batting average. But ex-Phillie Eric Milton, signed last winter to be the ace of this staff, has suffered through a wretched season: he's allowed 227 hits, including 40 home runs, in 172.1 innings and pitched to a 6.84 ERA. As a team, the Reds have surrendered 202 homers and posted a collective 5.07 ERA.

Following a stretch of 13 straight games against the division-rival Braves and Marlins, in which the Phils stayed in contention with 9 wins, one might worry about letdown or lack of focus. Maybe the team's checkered past with also-ran Cincinnati clubs will help guard against this; then again, the Phils' first series in more than a month against a team playing out the string could prove a stumbling block yet again.