Cole Hamels' heroics

Posted: October 16, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Cole Hamels talks about being in this kind of game. He talks about wanting the ball when everything matters.

He isn't afraid to say he wants to win World Series games, to throw no-hitters, to win 20 games in a season. Others might worry that failing to do those things would mark them as over-reachers and underachievers.

Cole Hamels isn't worried.

In the biggest game of his career, at just 24 years of age, Hamels worked his fastball-and-change-up magic once again last night, and he did nothing less than pitch the Phillies into the World Series. He was then named the series MVP.

He has now won three straight postseason games, the first Phillies pitcher in history to do that. On the list of accomplishments he hopes to add to his resume, this is just the first notable one. Look in his eyes, and you can tell he believes there are others to come.

"You know going out there in the big game, you want to be that guy that can dictate it," Hamels said. "I've had the opportunity this year, and I've been able to not only come through, but hopefully put us into more situations where I can do it again, and again, and again."

Down the road in Rancho Bernardo, near San Diego, young Cole Hamels wore a Dodgers hat to school because the Padres weren't very good and he played on a Little League team named the Dodgers.

"I grew up rooting for Mike Piazza and watching Orel Hershiser and Hideo Nomo and those guys," Hamels said. "I think I was more of a bandwagon fan."

He knocked more than 50,000 in Dodger Stadium off the bandwagon last night. The guys wearing the real blue hats that he faced were able to scratch out just four hits and no runs against him in the first five innings while the Phillies were building a 5-0 lead.

Hamels worked against no more than four batters in each of those innings. He did what he always does - he threw strikes and dared the hitters to guess if the pitches would be 90 m.p.h. fastballs or tantalizing, backbreaking change-ups. Most of the time, even if they guessed correctly, the location was good enough to get the batters out.

"They were trying everything they could. It just seemed like Cole was so in command, it didn't matter," said closer Brad Lidge. "He's a true ace."

Even when Manny Ramirez broke through in the sixth inning with a two-out, solo home run, Hamels was able to stop the damage right there, getting Russell Martin looking at a called third strike.

When the seventh inning came around and Hamels walked two batters with two out and veteran Jeff Kent was coming to the plate, the stroll to the mound by manager Charlie Manuel didn't mean Hamels was finished for the night. Manuel gave his young pitcher a combination pep talk and lecture and left him in there.

"He wanted to give me some confidence, I guess," Hamels said. "He wanted to know if I thought I could do it, and I said I knew I could."

Hamels, in one of those moments he cherishes, got Kent looking at a 94-m.p.h. fastball for the third out. It was his last pitch of the night, and it was as nasty as his first.

"If you have the mind-set and the talent, then you should be able to go out there and have success," Hamels said. "I think that's something I have the confidence that I can do. I know I have the talent to do it. It's just a matter of time and getting that opportunity."

Pitchers coming up through the Phillies' system have often waited in vain for big-game opportunities through the years. Hamels is fortunate to have come along at a very good time.

In the NL division series against the Brewers, he became the first franchise farm product to win a postseason game since Charles Hudson in 1983. Hamels is now in position to extend his personal postseason winning streak to five. In an extreme circumstance, it could even be six, but that would require Hamels to work on short rest, something that he and the team have avoided, partly because of his injury history and partly because they believe every fifth day is what works for him.

After this season, in which he made all 33 starts and set a career high by pitching 2271/3 innings, it's hard to argue with the logic.

"I think pitching every five days is a good assessment of what I can do and what I'm capable of doing. And I can be at my best," Hamels said. "I think they're [using me the right way] and the competitiveness in me, I'd love to do it because I've never done it."

Put it on his list. Pitch no-hitters, win championships, win 20 games, and grit through a must-win start when there is no other option.

The Phillies haven't had to survive that kind of trial this postseason. Maybe it is still to come.

Last night, with Hamels on the mound in a big start and the Dodgers flailing, there was little danger that the NL Championship Series would provide that kind of drama. He was in control, and the Phillies were in the World Series.

The two seem to go together.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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