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10/27/08 2:29 AM ET

Spin Forward: Solving the Cole case

Rays must find a way to break through vs. Hamels to extend Series

PHILADELPHIA -- It helps that the Rays have spent all season wrecking precedents and breaking new ground. Because their next task is to accomplish something that no one has been able to do this postseason.

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Tampa Bay must find a way to beat Cole Hamels, the man who more than anyone else has put his own mark on these playoffs. In four starts, he's won four times. He's been in control four times. He's been the best player on the field four times. If baseball handed out an MVP award for the entire postseason, he'd be not just the favorite but the only viable candidate.

So, Rays, if you want the season to continue, if you want to take this series back home to dome, sweet dome, all you have to do is beat him. But, uh, good luck with that.

"How do you beat him? I don't know, because we haven't done it," Rays outfielder Carl Crawford said on Sunday night. "We're still trying to figure that out. Hopefully we'll have an answer by tomorrow."

Manager Joe Maddon emphasized again and again on Sunday night that the Rays' job is not to win three games. It's to win one first. Or to post, as he referred to it, "three one-game winning streaks." Hamels' presence on Monday surely will make it easy not to look ahead.

The left-hander won only 14 games in the regular season, but that tells you something about wins, not about Hamels. He posted a 3.09 ERA, fifth in the National League, despite pitching in a bandbox of a ballpark. He allowed the fewest baserunners per inning in the league, had the fourth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio and generally was unpleasant to face.

He's already the NL Championship Series MVP, and another fine performance on Monday could net him a World Series MVP as well. The Rays surely know all of that. And none of it helps them answer the key question: How do they actually beat him?

"You've got to get the ball up," said infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist. "He stays down in the zone pretty well and you're not going to hit those pitches very well. So make sure you get the ball up."

And Hamels does get the ball up some. If there's a blemish on his regular-season record, it's that he allowed 28 home runs, including 15 at home. The Rays can hit the long ball, though they haven't done a lot of it for much of the World Series.

"It's kind of a guessing game what you're going to get the first pitch or the first couple pitches, because he's mixing it up really well," Zobrist said. "But I think you've got to believe he's going to throw you that changeup because he's been throwing it so much. If you get that up, I think you've got a good chance to hit it."

The changeup is the key to Hamels' arsenal. It's a pitch that Maddon called a "power changeup," and one he'll throw in any count. It has unusual movement and is extremely tough to pick up and to hit. Not that his other offerings are lousy, but the changeup must be neutralized in order to hit Hamels.

"That changeup of his looks so much like a fastball that it keeps you off balance," Crawford said. "It's hard to stay on the heater. So we've just got to find a way to adjust to him."

The other way to beat Hamels is not really about beating him. It's about having your own guy outperform him. That would be Scott Kazmir, who scuffled but survived in Game 1. Hamels pitched eight games this year in which he allowed two or fewer earned runs and the Phillies lost.

Truth be told, that's probably the Rays' best bet. Or at least it was before Sunday, when the Philadelphia offense truly looked like itself for the first time in the World Series. A bombardment of a series of Tampa Bay pitchers made Kazmir's assignment look all the more daunting.

But he has to do it. The Rays have to do it. Thanks to a 3-1 hole, there is no way for the Rays to win the World Series without beating Hamels. Hey, somebody's got to be able to do it. Right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

"Every time he goes out I think he's going to win the game," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's capable of shutting somebody out, and also I think of him as throwing no-hitters at times. I've got a lot of confidence in him."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.