ARLINGTON -- Rangers starter Cole Hamels goes up against the legacy of Cliff Lee when he pitches against the Blue Jays in Game 5 of the American League Division Series at 3:07 p.m. CT Wednesday in Toronto.
It's likely that many Rangers fans weren't paying attention when Hamels pitched brilliantly for the Phillies in the 2008 playoffs. They were hanging on every pitch when Lee got the Rangers through the first two rounds of postseason in 2010.
He faltered in the World Series, but in the ALDS against the Rays and the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, Lee was 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA, while opponents hit .151 off him. He pitched a complete game in a 5-1 victory over the Rays in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the ALDS at Tropicana Field.
Lee was to the Rangers in 2010, what they are hoping Hamels will be this October. That's why the Rangers acquired Lee on July 9 in 2010, and that is what the Rangers are saying about Hamels going into Game 5 on Wednesday. This is why the Rangers acquired him from the Phillies on July 31: to be their ace in October.
"I would echo that," manager Jeff Banister said. "It's why you go out and get top performers … elite competitors [for] situations like this and the confidence we feel. We've got a guy on the mound going for us who has been here, done it and quite capable of doing it."
A winner-take-all game is the ultimate proving ground for an ace.
"Him just being brought here for these situations just gives us all the confidence in the world," catcher Chris Gimenez said. "Who else would you rather have out there than your ace?"
"Having Cole on the mound in that game Wednesday, we know what Cole has done in the past seasons with Philadelphia," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "He was the MVP in the World Series [in 2008]. We know what he did in the last game of the regular season here. So we've got a lot of confidence in Cole. Hopefully he can get us through it and the offense can help him coast through that game."
Hamels has his own postseason legacy with the Phillies that includes being the MVP of the 2008 National League Championship Series and the World Series. He has made 14 postseason starts and is 7-4 with a 3.05 ERA. His 1.04 WHIP is the seventh best all-time among pitchers with at least 10 postseason starts.
"He's a big-game pitcher and he's proven himself," reliever Shawn Tolleson said. "I'm sure that's a huge reason why they wanted to get him, for games like this. He's poised and experienced. That's huge for the postseason. He brings a lot to the table.
Hamels also pitched in four potential clinching games while he was with the Phillies, going 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA as his team won all four. Those were Game 5 in the 2008 NLCS and World Series, Game 5 of the 2009 NLCS and Game 3 of the 2010 NLDS. But this is the first time he has ever pitched in a winner-take-all game.
"The one thing that stands out about Cole is how motivated he is," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "He is not complacent to be just good. He wants to be better than that. He is going to fight you. He is not going to back down."
Hamels and Lee were on the same staff together in Philadelphia for four years and Maddux said the two are similar.
"They are equally motivated," Maddux said. "You've got to keep in mind that Cliff mentored Cole, so a lot of their workout routine is similar. Cliff had exceptional command, while Cole has better stuff, but they are still two peas in a pod."
This will be the fifth time the Rangers have been in a winner-take-all game, including the ALDS in 2010, and Game 7 of the 2011 World Series, when they lost to the Cardinals. They also lost the 2012 AL Wild Card Game to the Orioles and a one-game playoff to the Rays in 2013.
The Rangers have had a number of great pitching performances through the years, both in the regular season and the playoffs, from Nolan Ryan's no-hitters to Colby Lewis' cool performances in the postseasons of 2010-11.
But Lee's three starts in the first two rounds of the 2010 postseason may be the standard by which all others are measured, and that will include Hamels on Wednesday.