Hamels seizes postseason spotlight
Phillies ace Cole Hamels handcuffed the Rays in Game 1 of the World Series
Hamels allowed two runs on five hits while walking two and striking out five
Given the depth of the Rays' rotation, the Phils needed a gem in the opener
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Cole Hamels did what he does, and Chase Utley did what he used to do a lot, and Brad Lidge did what he has done every single chance he has had this year, without fail. And so the Phillies, underdogs in some people's minds to a team that never even had a winning season until this year, did Wednesday what many expected they would in Game 1 of the World Series: they won.
Now, of course, comes the big test. Now the Phillies have to figure out how to win three more games.
"Of course, we'd be downplaying this if we lost," said Lidge, who put his stamp on a 3-2 win (Recap | Box Score) over the Rays, his sixth consecutive save this postseason and the 47th in 47 opportunities this season. "But the reality is we were going into a tough place to play and we had our ace on the mound."
That ace, the 24-year-old lefty Hamels, is the No. 1 reason the Phils now lead this best-of-seven series. A win from him Wednesday wasn't only expected. It was almost required, given the depth of the Rays' rotation and the lack of depth in Philadelphia's. Hamels didn't disappoint, pitching seven innings, giving up five hits and allowing only the two runs -- a two-out solo home run to Carl Crawford and a two-out double to Akinori Iwamura after a two-out walk.
The win continued a torrid postseason streak for Hamels, who had made only one postseason start -- a loss last year to the Rockies -- before this year. With the win, Hamels is now 4-0 this October with a 1.55 ERA. "You can watch tape and stuff, but until you get in the box, you never know what the ball's going to do in the strike zone," said his pitching coach, Rich Dubee. "We've got faith in all four of our starters. But Cole sets the tempo. He really does."
Only three other pitchers in major-league history have won four games in four postseason starts (Josh Beckett with the Red Sox last year, David Wells with the '98 Yankees and Dave Stewart with the '89 Oakland A's). Hamels, barring a sweep by the Phillies, figures to get at least one more start in the Series. No starter has ever won five games in a postseason. Randy Johnson went 5-1 for the Diamondbacks in 2001, but his last win was in relief.
You couldn't make a sweep through the Phillies' clubhouse -- at least you couldn't Wednesday -- without hearing high praise for the team's ace.
"He's probably the most mature 24-year-old I've ever been around," said reliever Scott Eyre.
"The poise he has for being his age is just incredible," said Lidge.
"He thinks he's going out to throw a no-hitter every time, he really does," Dubee said.
"Cole is pretty good, man," said the Phillies' manager, Charlie Manuel.
Hamels used his signature pitch -- a killer changeup -- to keep the Rays off balance for most of the night, mixing in a few more curveballs than he normally does and a fastball in the low 90s that he spotted well. That was enough to keep a Tampa Bay team that had just come off an emotional seven-game series victory over the Red Sox in the ALCS at bay. "The thing was, he didn't make any mistakes," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "More power to him. He had a great game."
Hamels struggled in his one postseason start in '07, giving up three hits and three runs -- and walking four -- in 6 2/3 innings against the Rockies. That start, according to Dubee, probably gave him an indication of what was to come. And with a nice layoff between the NLCS and the World Series -- Hamels' last start was a week earlier -- he was ready to face the Rays.
"Because every round you play a better team, you definitely have to be a little more focused," Hamels said. "You can't screw up as much."
Other than the two runs he gave up, Hamels was almost never in trouble. He got B.J. Upton to check-swing into a double play in the first inning with one out and Iwamura on first base. And he got Upton again, in the third, with the bases loaded and one out, to ground into an inning-ending around-the-horn double play.
The only other time he felt a little heat was in the sixth, when his first baseman, Ryan Howard, bobbled Carlos Pena's grounder to lead off the inning. But Hamels picked off Pena and then retired the rest of the side in order. The heart of the Rays' lineup -- Upton, Pena and Evan Longoria, the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters -- went 0-for-12.
The Phillies didn't hit the ball particularly well to back Hamels' effort. Utley, after failing on a bunt attempt and getting behind 0-2 in the count, smacked a Scott Kazmir pitch for a two-run homer in the first inning, his second homer of the postseason and probably the hardest hit ball all night. Utley had 33 homers during the regular season, but only 14 over the last four months.
The Rays scored their other run on two soft singles and a pair of soft groundouts in the fourth. The Phillies' lineup absolutely folded in important situations, too, going 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, the worst ever non-performance like that in a World Series game.
Once the game got into the eighth, though, the Phils didn't need any more help from their hitters. Manuel brought in Ryan Madson to pitch a perfect eighth, Lidge followed with the perfect ninth and the Phillies -- who had the best road record in baseball this year -- stole away the home-field advantage. At least for the time being.
The Rays are hardly devastated by the loss. They lost the first game of the ALCS against Boston, too, before fighting back. They have been doubted all season long. And with their ace going on in Game 2 at Tropicana Field -- James Shields is to face Philly's Brett Myers -- both teams realize that this Series, after one game, has done nothing but hold to form.
We'll see how long that lasts. Game 2 is Thursday night.