PHILADELPHIA -- Cole Hamels can wrap up the Phillies' second World Series title on Monday night and also accomplish what no pitcher in the postseason has done before him: win all five of his starts.
The Phillies left-hander is 4-0 this postseason, and this past Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, he became only the fourth pitcher to win the first game of each playoff series since the advent of the three-tier system in 1995.
And now he has the chance to record the best postseason record of any pitcher since then. Randy Johnson of the D-backs (2001) and Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels (2002) were 5-1. Josh Beckett of the Red Sox was 4-0 in 2007. All three of those teams won the World Series.
"I look at myself the way I've been able to play and I see certain areas that I can improve on, and hopefully I'll be able to do that," Hamels said before the Phils defeated the Rays, 10-2, on Sunday night to take a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series. "I know some areas that I did really well on I might not necessarily be able to come through and do it every game. But you just have to work with what you've got and go after it."
In Game 1, he kept the Rays off balance for seven innings, mixing his dancing changeup with a curve and fastball to win, 3-2, at Tropicana Field.
Hamels previously defeated the Brewers once in the first round and the Dodgers twice in the NL Championship Series, winning MVP honors of that round for his efforts.
His manager, Charlie Manuel, said Hamels' persona is as effective as his skill set.
"I think his poise and his focus and his determination plays a big part in who he is and how he pitches," Manuel said. "Cole Hamels goes out there and you can tell, he can smell a win and he's going to get you there. Cole is cocky in a good way. And that's a positive, strong way."
Hamels has dominated the playoffs with his changeup.
In Game 1, Hamels threw 102 pitches, 38 of them changeups. Since 27 of his 66 strikes came off the changeup, that clearly was his most effective pitch.
It's why the Rays amassed only five hits and the two runs against him, one coming on Carl Crawford's homer with two out in the fourth inning.
"Growing up in San Diego, the competition is so heavy that guys can hit 95-mph fastballs," Hamels said about the development of his changeup. "Where I grew up, Trevor Hoffman [of the Padres], the all-time saves leader, had all his success because of the changeup. And so, after my high school coach taught me how to throw it, it was really me going out there and trying to trust it."
Postseason Wins Leaders
Left-hander Cole Hamels, who will start Monday's Game 5 of the World Series, would tie the all-time record for wins in a single postseason should he beat the Rays. Hamels is the fourth pitcher in postseason history to win four games in four starts. The others were Josh Beckett in 2007, David Wells in 1998 and Dave Stewart in 1989.
It's nothing, of course, that the Phillies haven't come to expect from the 24-year-old who was the 17th pick overall in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.
After all, the Phillies have scored a total of 14 runs for Hamels in his four starts. He's won each of the Game 1s like this: 3-1, 3-2 and 3-2. His Game 5 series-ender at Dodger Stadium was 5-1.
That's a world of pressure pitching and the Phillies are where they are right now because Hamels has given up a total of five runs in his four postseason starts.
Hamels thinks his run this October is as much a product of luck as it is of skill.
"I think you have to have both, I really do," Hamels said. "You have to have the skill to get here, but you do have to have the play go your way and I think that's what luck is. You need to have a ball land fair, which could have been foul. You have to have a call go your way that might have been a ball or a strike. You have to have a home run that went your way that wasn't supposed to be a home run, and that's really the difference in the game sometimes.
"And truly that's just baseball. It's not perfect. And you have to make the best of it. You have to turn a bad play into a good play or take that good play and try to run with it even more."
To wit, in Game 1, Tampa Bay loaded the bases with one out in the third, but B.J. Upton smacked a hard grounder to the left of third baseman Pedro Feliz, who turned it into an inning-ending double play. Another foot to the third baseman's left and it would've been a base hit.
Then in the fifth, Akinori Iwamora doubled home Jason Bartlett with two out, but was stranded on second by Upton, who fouled out to the right side when first baseman Ryan Howard pulled the ball out of the stands. A foot further and Howard wouldn't have been able to reach it.
Good fortune or cockiness?
"I guess that's great that my manager thinks I'm cocky," Hamels said. "I don't try to go out there and assume that I'm cocky. I don't want people to really think that I'm overstepping my boundaries, because truly in order to show people that you're good, you have to play well. And that's how I guess you gain your cockiness."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.