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Hamels' October a month for the ages

Bauman: Hamels owning October

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Twenty-two days in, this is still Cole Hamels' October.

This is the month in which baseball reputations are made, or unmade, for all times. Hamels is only 24, but he is working on a postseason for the ages.

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Hamels was the winning pitcher in Game 1 of the 2008 World Series on Wednesday night, his Philadelphia Phillies taking the opener, 3-2, over the Tampa Bay Rays.

This was a road World Series victory, the importance of which cannot be overstated. But it was more of the same for Hamels, who is now 4-0 in the 2008 postseason, winning once in the National League Division Series, twice in the NLCS, where he was named MVP, and now here in the Fall Classic.

"Cole's pretty good, man. I'm glad he's pitching for us," was the way Phillies manager Charlie Manuel put it. That might have seemed like something of an understatement, but it covered the necessary ground.

This was the third straight postseason series in which Hamels has started the Phillies off with a victory. The difference here was that he was being asked to win a World Series opener on the road. And this, the first World Series game played at Tropicana Field, was a road experience unlike any other.

It was loud. The clanging of the cowbells was incessant. The roof was not retractable. The Tampa Bay fan base, knowing only defeat for 10 seasons, and suddenly being treated to an American League pennant winner, rose to the occasion in both numbers and decibel level.

Hamels is doing for Philadelphia what Josh Beckett did for Boston in 2007. One dominant pitcher obviously cannot win three straight postseason series by himself. But he can set a tone, he can establish the very real possibility of ultimate triumph. That is what Hamels has done for the Phillies.

With two runs allowed over seven innings against the Rays, Hamels' postseason ERA is now 1.55.

STONE COLE LOCK
Following his NLCS MVP performance, the Phillies' Cole Hamels continued his postseason mastery in Game 1 of the World Series against the Rays.
Series/Gm Opp.W-LERAIPHRKBB
NLDS Gm 1MILW0.0082091
NLCS Gm 1LADW2.5776282
NLCS Gm 5LADW1.2975153
WS Gm 1TBW2.5775252
Totals4-01.5529185278

And this was an outing that had no room for relaxation in it, because the Rays' own southpaw starter, Scott Kazmir, righted himself after a shaky beginning, and this settled into what it was supposed to be: a tight, highly competitive contest.

Hamels and the Phillies are doubly blessed because none of his stellar postseason efforts are wasted. The eighth-ninth inning combo of Ryan Madson and closer Brad Lidge finished the job for Hamels, Lidge picking up his sixth save of the postseason, and his 47th in 47 save opportunities in this year. All in all, this is surefire combination for the Phils.

"When I think about how he pitched tonight, that's kind of like, so far, kind of like a regular game for him," Manuel said. "He can be a little bit better, he can be a little bit sharper, but tonight he was very good. He took us to the right place in the game. And of course we scored three runs, and that was enough tonight. And he was able to hold onto the lead, and our bullpen also did a good job when they came in."

When Hamels was asked postgame if this was the best he had pitched in the postseason, his answer was honest. He had pitched better in other games. But that was the beauty of this performance. He was not at his absolute best, yet he was still more than good enough. And that's another mark of greatness.

"I've done better, obviously, with the first game against Milwaukee [in the Division Series]," Hamels said. "I just had everything in control that game.

ONE-MAN SHOW
Since the start of Division Series play in 1995, four pitchers have won three Game 1s (LDS, LCS, WS) in the same postseason.
PitchersTeamYear
John SmoltzBraves1996
David WellsYankees1998
Josh BeckettRed Sox2007
Cole HamelsPhillies2008

"This game, because every round you play a better and better team, you definitely have to be a little more focused. You can't screw up as much. And that's what I did with even a couple of pitches, they were able to capitalize.

"But with being able to score runs early, it just helps my game out a little bit easier because it, I guess, lessens the pressure and kind of puts me at a point where I can't really do much else but just allow myself to go out there and keep pitching, and these guys will keep scoring runs."

Hamels has the right mix, not just the talent, but the composure. He throws the fastball to precise spots, and he baffles the opposition with a change of speeds. A comparison with two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana would not be out of the question at this point. But Hamels' ability to remain cool and focused under the extreme pressure of the postseason remains an essential part of his success.

"I think going into the game, being somebody else's home turf, the excitement they have with the crowd, you just have to, I guess, take a step back and know that you have a job to do, no matter how loud it gets," Hamels said. "And that's what I was able to do. I think I'll still kind of play it slow and easy until the World Series is over, until I really kind of get excited about it, just because that's kind of the mind-set I've always had, about playing."

Cole Hamels, for the fourth straight time in this postseason, has given the Phillies a major boost. This young lefty has made this October his own.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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