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With pop in their bats, Phils pop champagne corks
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PHILADELPHIA — Pedro Martinez broke out the first bottle of champagne, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth puffed on victory cigars, and beer flew everywhere.

Celebrations are becoming a tradition for the Philadelphia Phillies. It doesn't get old.

"We won the World Series last year, but we want to win it again," pitcher Cole Hamels said. "We've done everything right to get there. We want to go to the next level."

The defending champs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the NL championship series Wednesday for their second straight pennant, the first team to do that since the New York Yankees in 2000-01.

The Phillies, who beat Tampa Bay in last year's World Series, are trying to become the NL's first repeat champion since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76. The Yankees were the last team to win consecutive titles when they captured three in a row from 1998-00.

While they enjoyed the party after eliminating Manny Ramirez & Co. in the NLCS for the second straight year, there's still some work to do.

"This is great and all that, but we have four games to win," said Werth, who hit two of his five postseason homers in the clincher.

Now, the Phillies have to wait nearly a week to play again. The World Series begins next Wednesday night in New York or Anaheim.

Rust shouldn't be a concern for these Phillies. They were in the same position last year. Philadelphia had six days off while the Rays only had two after defeating Boston in seven games.

The waiting isn't a problem, either. After all, the Phillies have looked forward to this moment since they paraded down Broad Street last October. A few more days is no big deal.

Manager Charlie Manuel gets a chance to set his rotation and players have plenty of time to rest. After a day off Thursday, the Phillies will return to the field for a workout Friday.

"Having to go through 162 games and understanding there is another season after that, you kind of get impatient at times and you really want it to come to an end faster than it does," said shortstop Jimmy Rollins, whose two-out, two-run double in the ninth inning capped a dramatic comeback in Game 4. "But you can only take it one day at a time and then when it gets here, it goes by pretty fast."

The Phillies cruised to their third straight NL East title this year despite a problematic pitching staff. Hamels, the postseason hero last October, struggled all season. Closer Brad Lidge, who was perfect in 2008, had 11 blown saves and lost his job a couple times. Three-fifths of the original rotation ended up in the bullpen and two of those pitchers weren't on the NLCS roster.

But first-year general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made key moves in acquiring two former Cy Young Award winners — Cliff Lee and Martinez.

Lee has been this year's version of Hamels in the postseason, going 2-0 with an 0.74 ERA in three starts. Martinez pitched seven scoreless innings in a 2-1 loss to the Dodgers in Game 2 and could get the ball for the second game of the World Series.

Lidge has even turned things around in the playoffs. He's 1-0 with three saves in three chances and hasn't allowed a run in five appearances.

Still, Hamels' inconsistency is an issue heading into the World Series. Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ, both reliable in the regular season, each got one start and also have pitched out of the bullpen in the playoffs. One of them will be counted on to pitch at least one game next week.

"I've seen our pitching better," Manuel said. "I think in order for us to really have a lot of success in the series, we're going to have to have better consistent starting pitching. But we are very capable of doing that. I know we can win the World Series again. But things have to be right for us, and plus we've got to play the best."

The Phillies have almost the same group that won it all last year with three notable additions. They replaced left fielder Pat Burrell with All-Star Raul Ibanez last offseason, signed the unemployed Martinez in mid-July and acquired Lee from Cleveland before the nonwaiver trade deadline.

A powerful offense has carried the Phillies in these playoffs. They've averaged 6.1 runs a game. Howard, the NLCS MVP, is batting .355 with two homers and 14 RBIs. Werth is hitting .281 with five homers and 10 RBIs. Shane Victorino (.361), Carlos Ruiz (.346) and Chase Utley (.303) are also hitting above .300.

"Our offense came alive," Hamels said. "Last year, the pitching is what really got us to the top. This year, it's the whole team. That's what really shows."

The Phillies enter the World Series on a postseason roll. They're 18-5 since the start of the 2008 playoffs and 16-4 in the last 20 games. That's the best record over a 20-game span by an NL team in postseason history.

"The playoffs are a whole different animal," Howard said. "You're one of eight teams that are left, and you're going for the gold. You just know that in order to get to where you want to be, you've got to step your game up and you've got to be on your 'A' game and just go out there and get things done."