PHILADELPHIA -- Cole Hamels and Derek Lowe couldn't have asked for better starts to their respective 2008 postseasons.
On the same night that Philly's Hamels was keeping Brewers hitters guessing in his team's National League Division Series opener last week, Los Angeles' Lowe was doing the same against the Cubs.
On Thursday, the two will be on opposite sides of Game 1 of the NL Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park, and the mission for both will be simple.
Do it again.
"It's going to be just the same challenge as we had in Chicago," Lowe said. "We have to pitch good, and we all know that."
"We've had 162 games to practice," Hamels said. "Now it really is the time to go out there and play and take what we've learned this whole season and execute it."
On the surface, it's easy to see why this game could turn into a fierce pitchers' duel.
Hamels turned in one of the best postseason starts in Phillies history last week against the Brewers, holding Milwaukee scoreless on two hits in eight innings. Lowe did his part for the Dodgers that night as well, holding Chicago's potent offense to two runs in six innings, striking out six.
Though both pitchers were among the NL leaders in innings pitched in 2008 (227 1/3 innings for Hamels; 211 for Lowe), they will both have the luxury of entering Thursday's game on seven full days of rest. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel pointed out that the rest Hamels received before Game 1 of the NLDS provided a necessary boost.
"This year, of course, he's pitched more and he's completed the full year," Manuel said. "But I think the rest that he got really made the difference, if you want to know the truth as far as the stuff he had and the command and his control and everything."
Manny Ramirez is on a tear, hitting .396 since joining L.A.
Lowe's road ERA was 4.42, two points higher than home.
One area where Lowe has a clear edge is his postseason resume. The Dodgers right-hander has appeared in 19 playoff games -- starting eight of them -- compared to Hamels' two postseason starts.
The postseason glare on Lowe was perhaps at its brightest when the right-hander was pitching for Boston in 2004. He got the ball in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees and lifted the Red Sox to victory with six innings of one-hit, one-run ball. One week later, Lowe got the ball for Boston's World Series-clinching victory over the Cardinals, in which the right-hander shut down St. Louis with seven scoreless innings.
"It's the ability to just pitch the same way you did throughout the season," Lowe said. "And I think it's how you deal with the pressure. I think the only reason why you would be nervous is if you're not prepared. And I think I've always prided myself on being prepared."
Though the 24-year-old Hamels can't boast quite the same playoff experience as Lowe, preparedness is one trait the two share this week.
Hamels has had two opportunities to start against the Dodgers in 2008 and has pitched well against them, recording a 1-0 record and 2.57 ERA. Last season, Hamels made his first postseason start against Colorado, having not faced the Rockies in the preceding regular season.
"He has a good changeup," Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp said. "He pounds the zone and just makes good pitches. But we gotta work him, just like we did all the rest of the pitchers in Chicago."
Even though a pitchers' duel is easy to predict in a game like this, a slugfest could just as easily break out on Thursday night.
Both lineups boast marquee power hitters -- the Dodgers have Trade Deadline acquisition Manny Ramirez and Philly has the ever-dangerous Ryan Howard. Ramirez helped fuel the Dodgers' 19-8 run to end the season, and Howard was largely responsible for Philly's 17-8 September.
Either hitter could strike at any moment, as Lowe and Hamels know well.
"Their whole lineup from start to finish is very talented," Hamels said. "They've all had success. They can all put some damage on the scoreboard with a quick home run here and there. So, every single one of them you cannot take lightly."
Kevin Horan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.