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Hamels well-versed in big playoff starts

Hamels well-versed in big playoff starts

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies are up, 2-0, over the Reds in the National League Division Series, and Philadelphia is hoping that its third ace, left-hander Cole Hamels, can close out Cincinnati with a victory Sunday at Great American Ball Park. Game time is 8 p.m. ET on Postseason.TV and TBS.

Every team that has taken a 2-0 lead in NLDS play -- which has happened 18 times since Division Series play began in 1995 -- has gone on to win the series.

The odds are in Hamels' favor. The Phils lefty is 6-0 with a 1.07 ERA in seven starts against the Reds. But don't tell Hamels that he is favored to close out the series and advance his team to the NL Championship Series for the third consecutive season.

"You know, every year the team has been different," he said. "I think I only remember one person that's been on the team this whole time, and that's [second baseman Brandon] Phillips. So you can't really say much.

"When they change the players around, a guy that you knew you could get out, well, now you got somebody else that you have to research about, and you have to go and get the guy out."

Hamels' most memorable game against the Reds occurred on April 21, 2007. Before that game, manager Charlie Manuel had a team meeting, not pleased that his squad was 4-11 to start the season.

The meeting paid dividends. The Phillies not only won, 4-1, Hamels had one of his best outings of his career, completing his first Major League game and striking out 15 in the process.

"Truly, all I remember is, I was effectively wild," Hamels said. "It's not like I was hitting every spot and guys were not swinging. I was getting a lot of foul balls, and then I was able to finish off a guy. Sometimes those games happen."

Hamels faced the Reds once this season, on July 11 at Citizens Bank Park. He pitched 7 1/3 innings without giving up a run in a 1-0 victory. Reds manager Dusty Baker said that he saw a different Hamels than the one he saw last season, which was the toughest of his career.

"We saw a couple of different Cole Hamels. Last time we saw him, he had his fastball back. He had pop on the inside part of the plate," Baker said. "[When we saw him last year], I don't know if he was hurting a little bit or tired, but he was throwing a whole bunch of changeups."

Hamels was his old self during the regular season in 2010, going 12-11 with a 3.06 ERA. He was second on the team, behind Roy Halladay, with 211 strikeouts.

"You have two of the best pitchers in the league right now -- with Halladay and Hamels," teammate Roy Oswalt said. "Cole is going to go out there and try to throw a good quality start."

Unlike Halladay, who threw a no-hitter in his first postseason game, Hamels has a lot of postseason experience. He was at his best in 2008, when the Phillies won their first World Series title since 1980. He won the NLCS and World Series MVPs by going a combined 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts. He won Game 5 of the NLCS over the Dodgers to send the Phils to the World Series.

Two years ago, Hamels was considered the ace of the staff. With Halladay and Oswalt on the roster, Hamels is considered the third starter in the rotation, but Manuel doesn't see it that way.

"When you say he's No. 3, I think, 'Why do we put him in the third game? Doesn't make him No. 3,'" the skipper said. "We've got three guys that are top-of-the-rotation pitchers, and there is an argument where you could basically put them wherever you wanted to. Roy Halladay has stood out this year as far as his wins, innings pitched, but the other two are pretty good, too."

Hamels is plenty good enough to try to close it for the Phillies on Sunday night.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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