Bill Conlin: Hamels lives up to billing in the end

Posted: October 10, 2008

HE WAS READY for his closeup, Mr. DeMille.

Cole Hamels stepped onto the biggest soundstage of his career in Game 1 of the NLCS last night, a Hollywood-worthy leading man going against Hollywood's Team.

OK, he didn't come out smoking the way he did in his powerful Game 1 Division Series victory over the Brewers. But he hung tough as John Wayne waiting for the cavalry to arrive. He left with a 3-2 lead after seven innings that kept getting better and 105 pitches that set the table for another bravura bullpen performance, another save for Brad Lidge.

The kid has it all, just like Bogie and Bacall. Aquiline SoCal good looks. Trophy wife. Enough herbals, lotions, potions, notions and holistic exotica to make Hugh Hefner envious. A grand plan where he and Heidi will rebuild a school in disease- and poverty-ravished Malawi.

And a changeup so good it should have a name. How about "Dow Jones?"

The last Phillies player to have this kind of "it" factor was Darren Daulton before he ran across that Mayan calendar, which ends in 2012. Us, too, Daulton says. The original "Dutch" was a Hollywood-handsome Kansan with a persona so magnetic manager Jim Fregosi pretty much turned over the 1993 Phillies clubhouse to his sculpted catcher.

Mike Schmidt had that more-than-just-a-superstar aura - in a way fans of the great Greta Garbo would understand. He wanted to be the star, but not the center of attention.

Central Casting did no favors for Cole Hamels in his first big national moment.

He was handed a lousy script, a "B" movie with a working title, "Night of The Living Wormballer."

But the great actors make the best of bad scripts and are the ones you will remember long after they break down the set.

Hamels survived early wildness in the strike zone, a puzzling first-inning challenge of Manny Ramirez that put the Phillies in a 1-0 hole, and a sinker-slider show by Dodgers righthander Derek Lowe that had the infield worm population begging for mercy. When Pedro Feliz bounced out to short for the second out of the fifth inning with the Phils trailing 2-0, Charlie Manuel's offense had hit into 11 groundball outs, including a second-inning doubleplay after Pat Burrell's leadoff single.

But the worms turned in the sixth inning, so to speak. The only thing missing in a rally that was

eerily similar to the third-inning

nuking of the Brewers in Game 2 was CC Sabathia. But Lowe and his suddenly elevated sinker filled in superbly after a fatal two-base error on shortstop Rafe Furcal leading off the sixth that left Shane Victorino on second.

Chase Utley showed up in postseason prime time late but strong. Homer to right, 2-2. Then Pat Burrell, child of scorn turned town's love child, sealed the deal with a screaming line drive to dead left that Manny watched the way Lefty Gomez used to pause between pitches to admire the rare sight of airplanes flying over Yankee Stadium.

By the time his supporting actors handed him the lead, Hamels could have been De Niro's Travis Bickel snarling, "You talking to me?" Gable never enunciated, "Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn" with more weary indifference.

This was Duvall's Captain Kilgore, loving the smell of napalm in the morning.

Hamels allowed two singles his final three innings, one to center by Ramirez with two outs in the fifth, the other a leadoff hit by James Loney, who was immediately snuffed when Matt Kemp bounced into a doubleplay. Cole finished his second victory of the postseason with a flourish, striking out Blake DeWitt and pinch-hitter Jeff Kent to start the seventh, then deflecting a Furcal bouncer up the middle to Jimmy Rollins for the final out.

Emerging setup man Ryan Madson and 44-for-44 closer Brad Lidge sealed the deal with nothing more worrisome than ninth-inning deep flies to center tracked by Victorino ahead of a DeWitt strikeout that sent the 45,839 first-nighters into towel-waving ecstasy.

And, yes, pitching in the No More Money Pit is a lot more rewarding to sinkerballers than to flyball-strikeout pitchers like Hamels.

"It's a huge challenge, when you're pitching in this day and age," Hamels said. "It's all about the home runs. The crowd wants to see the home runs. So bats are a little bit harder, balls are a little bit harder, the fences are a little bit shorter, to be a pitcher you really have to grind and be mentally tough."

The Phillies' leading man said something then that was reminiscent of famous words from the Frank Sinatra refrain that blared over the Yankee Stadium sound system after so many postseason victories in the Joe Torre Era.

" . . . If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere . . . " Sinatra sang.

Hamels varied the tune just a little, ad-libbing the way the great ones do when the lines in the script don't quite fit.

" . . . I think if you're able to succeed here, you can pitch anywhere." He said that.

Cut. Print. That's a Game 1 wrap. *

Send e-mail to bill1chair@aol.com.

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