Sam Donnellon: In clinching game, it was Hamels of 2008, not '09

Cole Hamels pitched a gem in Game 3, striking out nine and allowing only five hits.
Cole Hamels pitched a gem in Game 3, striking out nine and allowing only five hits.
Posted: October 11, 2010

CINCINNATI - The ball shot up and wandered into foul territory along the third-base line. Two outs, you thought, I thought, Cole Hamels undoubtedly thought. Four to go for the clinch.

Carlos Ruiz drifted over and looked at Placido Polanco and Polanco drifted over and looked to Chooch, and by the time both men realized neither was calling, the ball was headed into Polanco's gut and rolling out.

In another time, say 2009, guts would have tightened all over the Delaware Valley, a sense of doom pervading bars, cars and living rooms. What would happen next? A rally, of course. Cole Hamels would lose focus, would cough up a hit, a gapper perhaps, maybe even one of those ill-timed bombs that pockmarked his 2009 season.

"When you try to go outside your realm,'' Cole Hamels had said the day before, "you're going to get yourself in trouble.''

Hamels took the ball back. He delivered a strike past Ryan Hanigan, then threw an offspeed pitch that the Cincinnati Reds catcher pushed to short.

And then he struck out Drew Stubbs to end the eighth inning.

Hamels allowed five hits and struck out nine in last night's 2-0, complete-game masterpiece. With 44,599 celebration-desperate fans screaming over hard-hit fouls, he allowed a Reds player to reach second only twice.

"In their home ballpark,'' he said afterward, "they can take the energy and steal it from you.''

He wouldn't allow it. After Chase Utley's fifth-inning home run doubled his 1-0 cushion, Hamels retired eight batters in a row, striking out four - including three of the four at the top of the order.

From the fifth inning until Brandon Phillips singled to start the ninth, he allowed one hit, one baserunner.

He did not walk a batter all game.

His 119th and final pitch, a high, 95-mph fastball, struck out Scott Rolen.

"I was really able to establish my fastball early,'' he said. "I was able to hit my spots away. I was able to work in a good cutter and a few good curveballs in the end. And when you have the defense behind you, you can't ask for any more, because you're playing good baseball.''

And when it occasionally foresakes you?

You pitch the train right back onto the track.

Colbert Michael Hamels has been the Phillies' real ghost-buster this season. He - not Roy Halladay or Roy Oswalt - is the biggest reason Cliff Lee is less of a specter than he would have been.

Yes, Halladay won 21 games, and Oswalt was better than both Lee and J.A. Happ over the second half of the season, but the bet made when Lee was dealt was that Hamels would return to 2008 form and not repeat 2009.

Not counting his two-inning tuneup on the last day of the regular season, Hamels has allowed one run or none in six of his last seven starts. His ERA in September was 1.93. He's been a rock, the guy who could pitch through the nastiest weather in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series without his best pitch, a guy who could rebound from a big hit or a big mistake with big outs.

A guy who could shake off a fielder's error like Polanco's muff of that eighth-inning popup in foul territory.

A guy who watched Phillips' hard grounder skip underneath Polanco's glove to open the ninth, and the mouths of the deafening crowd once again . . . then induced a doubleplay from Joey Votto, whom Hamels later called, "My MVP for the year.''

"I think that's where I had to really bear down, with him,'' Hamels said, "because at any moment he can hit a home run to any side of the ballpark.''

The game ended with a strikeout of Rolen, once the face of the Phillies.

There was no big celebration, no rush of the mound, no jumping around on one another. It looked like Game 161 against Washington.

"I don't think we want to get too carried away,'' Hamels said.

You can, though. You feel that 2008 feeling again, the one that featured Hamels in every important panel. That guy is back, older, better even.

"I think I've learned that you can't try to be a hero in the postseason,'' Hamels had said Saturday. "You have to just play your game, and if you do that right, then you can become one . . . ''

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