Playoffs no longer foreign to Hamels
Phillies' Game 1 starter takes experience from '07 into NLDS
PHILADELPHIA -- The list of reasons why Cole Hamels can be better than he was last year is not particularly long, nor particularly complicated. But for the Phillies, it is significant. And so Hamels made his way down that list on Tuesday afternoon, beginning at the top.
"No. one, I have playoff experience checked off next to my name," he said, drawing an invisible check mark in the air. "I don't know, for some odd reason, being able to experience something for the very first time, there's a lot of nerves, just because of the unexpected. And so you just have to really go out there and treat it as something that's not as foreign as last year."
That's a pretty weighty reason, as Hamels prepares to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series between his Phillies and the Brewers on Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET. And there are other reasons, most notably this:
"It's something I've been preparing for ever since we entered Spring Training," Hamels said.
Why not? Hamels didn't pitch particularly poorly in his lone NLDS start last October, against the Rockies, allowing three runs and pitching into the seventh inning. But his lasting memory of that game was the fact that he lost.
This time will be different, Hamels says. There's the experience, yes, and the preparation. There's the reputation, touting him -- at age 24 -- as one of the game's top left-handers. And there's the sense that his season was even better than the numbers make it seem.
Despite losing 10 games, Hamels also won 14. And considering the stretches of sparse run support that he endured, wins and losses hardly mattered. Hamels instead staked his claim to the role of rotation ace by striking out 196 batters in 227 1/3 innings, by throwing nearly all of those innings with a healthy left arm and by -- here's the incredible part -- walking just 53 batters.
"He throws a lot of strikes," Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks said. "If you keep swinging at the changeup pretty early in the count, he's just going to work off that."
The changeup, of course, is the reason why the Brewers -- a predominantly right-handed group of power hitters -- must head into Wednesday's NLDS Game 1 with a fair bit of respect for the opposing starting pitcher. Hamels has made a living combining his fastball with a devastating changeup, thwarting even those hitters who know it's coming.
"He's got a good fastball, but his changeup is by far his best pitch," Brewers right fielder Corey Hart said of Hamels. "He's going to throw it, and it's tough not to think about it."
But the Brewers have been thinking about it. They've been thinking about it since Hamels struck out 11 Brewers over seven innings back in April, and since he reminded them of it by firing 6 1/3 effective innings against Milwaukee less than three weeks ago. Only a handful of Brewers have had any extended success off Hamels -- most notably first baseman Prince Fielder, who finished 3-for-6 with two homers against the lefty this year.
Left fielder Ryan Braun has a homer in his career off Hamels, too, and so does shortstop J.J. Hardy. But few others have had had any sort of success off Hamels, as evidenced by the team's .216 overall average against him -- even though that's something that Hamels, who allowed more home runs than all but nine NL pitchers this season, has consciously ignored.
"They've got tremendous talent, great players, great young players," Hamels said. "They can hit the long ball, and they can really get after you with a few hits here and there, and all of a sudden hit the home run -- and that can definitely change the aspect of the game. I know with the amount of home runs I do give up every year, it's something where, I think in the postseason, you definitely want to minimize the damage."
When Hamels does take the mound at Citizens Bank Park to begin Wednesday's game, he will be pitching for the first time in eight days. On call in case the Phillies needed him to clinch the NL East title on Sunday, Hamels instead took some extra rest and will be facing the Brewers fresher than he has been at any point since Spring Training.
"It can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing," Hamels said. "Mentally, your body is always ready to go out on day 5, just because that's something that we've been doing ever since I've gotten into pro ball."
Yet somehow, some way, Hamels intends to be ready on Wednesday. It shouldn't be difficult. He has the experience, he's done the preparation and he's scouted the Brewers as thoroughly as he can.
Now, he just wants the win. Which, of course, is precisely why he's here.
"You want to be that sort of guy that everybody can obviously look to come out ahead and be able to pitch that big game," Hamels said. "I've had a few blunders here and there. But from your failures, I think you learn more. With your failures, you learn how to deal with it, and hopefully, you can change things so you can have success."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.