Paul Hagen: When Hamels is your Game 3 starter, you must be good

With two shutout innings in Atlanta, Cole Hamels finished with a career-best 3.06 ERA.
With two shutout innings in Atlanta, Cole Hamels finished with a career-best 3.06 ERA.
Posted: October 04, 2010

ATLANTA - Your Philadelphia Phillies ended up with the most wins in baseball this season. That makes them the best team in Bud Selig's entire kingdom, and let's give them a hand for that.

The problem, of course, is that they don't get no rings for this accomplishment, don't get no parades for their hard-earned achievement over 6 long months. Does anybody remember that the Angels won 100 games 2 years ago? Probably not, since they were dismissed in the first round of the playoffs. The team that ultimately will be recognized as the best will be the one that sprays champagne when the World Series ends a month from now.

Baseball is a sprint, not a marathon. At least once the postseason begins.

So when Cole Hamels, who started and pitched two shutout innings in yesterday's regular-season finale against the Braves, was asked if he looks at the gauntlet ahead and considers anything short of a second world championship in 3 years a disappointment, he didn't blink.

"Yeah, you have to," he said matter-of-factly. "To be in the category of being the greatest, the best, you have to prove it. You can't have the team that woulda, shoulda, coulda. A lot of people can talk about how great a team was, but if you don't have anything to show for it, then it's really hard to convince people."

The biggest reason so many pundits like the Phillies' chances is reflected by the fact that Hamels finished with a career-low 3.06 earned run average and a career-high 211 strikeouts . . . and still won't start until Game 3 of the National League Division Series next Sunday in Cincinnati.

Having Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt in the same rotation can do that to a fellow. Hamels joked that if he had been told a year ago that he would be teammates with two such dominant pitchers, he would have expected it to be an All-Star Game.

"It puts our team in the best scenario. To have guys that can each start a Game 1, that just instills confidence in each other and, hopefully, in our offense," he said. "Knowing that any one of us can get the job done and do a very good job. But we have to get the job done."

It doesn't hurt that, in a best-of-five series, the third game will be crucial no matter what happens in Halladay's and Oswalt's starts. If the Phillies split at The Bank, a Hamels win would reclaim homefield advantage. If they're down 0-2, he needs to win to stave off elimination. And if they win the first two, he's in a position to pitch the clincher.

This also played into the thinking: Hamels is 3-0, 1.67 in four career starts at Great American Ball Park, holding Reds hitters to a .172 batting average in the process.

Even in the longer NLCS and World Series, the Game 3 starter is in line to start the decisive Game 7 if necessary.

Hamels wasn't completely satisfied with his tuneup in what turned out to be an 8-7 loss, which, combined with San Francisco's win over San Diego, had the following implications: The Padres are out, the Braves are in and will open their NLDS at AT&T Park on Thursday, and Cincinnati will be the Phillies' opponent.

He threw 30 pitches, only 16 for strikes, but chalked that up to knowing that he was only going to pitch a couple of innings.

"The adrenaline pumps a little bit more. I kind of realized I don't think I can be a reliever because when you have that much adrenaline, you have to control it. And I wasn't really able to throw a couple of the pitches I probably would have liked to have worked on," he said. "When you light up the radar gun, it's not always a good thing."

His fastball was consistently clocked at 94. At the same time, he declared himself ready to go, even more on track than he was in 2008 when he went on to be voted the Most Valuable Player of both the NLCS and World Series.

"I feel a lot stronger and a lot healthier. Mentally, I feel more prepared. Even from '08," he said. "Then it was just going on excitement of being in the postseason for the second time and trying to make it last more than three games. I felt good then, but I feel like I have a better workout plan now, so I should be a lot stronger. And with the last couple seasons of being in the postseason, I feel like I can mentally handle it."

That's not particularly comforting to any teams the Phillies might end up facing down the playoff road, but Hamels reiterated that all the attention that he, Halladay and Oswalt are sure to get in the coming days will only matter if they perform up to their capabilities.

"There's going to be a lot of hype about it, but, at the same time, we have to go out and pitch our own game and not get carried away," he said. "If we're able to go out and do our jobs, good things are going to happen."

Send e-mail to hagenp@phillynews.com

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