Sam Donnellon: Still not sure which Hamels will show up for Phillies in NLCS

Cole Hamels had an erratic 2009 for Phillies.
Cole Hamels had an erratic 2009 for Phillies.
Posted: October 15, 2009

LOS ANGELES - Cole Hamels had another man picked off, only Ryan Howard made another errant throw. This was in the first inning of his Game 2 start of the National League Division Series, and the most distressing thing about it was what happened next.

Hamels snapped his glove downward as he got the ball back from Jimmy Rollins, clearly in disgust. Maybe he was angry that his throw didn't get there faster, maybe he was just angry that he was in another early inning pickle. But it looked as if he was showing up Howard, and for a guy who yesterday again blamed his erratic subpar season on trying to be "perfect in order to succeed," it was not the personality trait you were hoping to see from him at this time of year.

Hamels' wife, Heidi, was about to give birth to their first child, he knew she was close, so maybe that too led to the unsavory display, or the four runs that followed over his five innings of work. And maybe he should get a pass because of that, too. But the bottom line is that we once again do not know what to expect when he takes the mound tonight against the Dodgers for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

Can he be Cole Hamels, hero of 2008, a pitcher who handled errors and miscues by striking out the next guy or inducing a doubleplay?

Or will we have to settle for Cole Hamels 2009? A pitcher who, manager Charlie Manuel said yesterday, could be "sailing along with no hits and all of a sudden the pitcher bloops a ball in and he can't get out of an inning and there's four or five runs in and he can't shut the inning down and we end up losing the game."

Charlie also said, "That's not a typical Cole Hamels game."

Well, yeah, Charlie, this season it is.

Hamels has been known to overthink himself into trouble. Really, it was the theme going into last postseason, after he admitted getting overhyped for his NLDS start against Colorado the year before. But Hamels' eight shutout innings against the Brewers to start last year's championship run continued his seasonlong consistency, bred by a resilience that had really not marked his career until that point.

He was 14-10 last year. He easily could have won 20 games. In 227 1/3 innings, he did not throw a wild pitch. Then, Hamels spoke of how he had grasped baseball's interdependency. "I can't control the whole game or the outcome," he said before Game 1 of the 2008 World Series. "I'm only a small part."

That approach made him the World Series MVP. It might also have led to a 2009 season in which he took a big step backward. Before his start against the Rockies last week, Hamels spoke of his lofty expectations entering 2009, of "standing here right now holding the potential Cy Young, but that's not the case."

That's not the talk of an interdependent. He won 10 games, lost 11 this year, finished the season with a 4.32 earned run average. He went winless through his first four starts for the first time in his career. Some of that had to do with all those innings, with the short winter, with the appearances and the commercials. Some of it had to do with lofty expectations, which led to mental breakdowns in the same kind of big spots he bore down on the previous season.

"I think when you pitch as much as I did, to have a short offseason, you don't mentally get that sort of break," he said. "You might be physically ready, but mentally you're not there. Even though you work as hard as you possibly can . . . Sometimes there's a trigger, and you just have to wait until it clicks."

Hamels then said: "It started to click for me in May, and things were going really well, and then you hit a few bumps in the road, and you kind of get off track and you have to get yourself back on track." There have been points since then when he was back on, but there have been enough bumps to leave us hanging big-time about what to expect tonight.

He is still only 25 years old. He still has not won a Cy Young, or more than 15 games in a season. He was incredible at the end of last season, for most of it really, but this is a whole new ballgame. And an uncertain one.

"It's just kind of been a definite learning season for me, and I'm definitely going to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said yesterday. "Because that's just not the type of person I want to be to my teammates and especially to the organization and the fans. I want to be the type of guy that they can count on and know that I'm there to go out and win every game I possibly can."

Tonight would be a nice start.

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