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Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Updated: October 23, 10:16 AM ET
Hamels proving October is his kind of month

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The names on the list are the names of men who have carved their legend in the month of October.

Josh Beckett. Randy Johnson. Curt Schilling.

Jack Morris. John Smoltz. Orel Hershiser.

We know their names because October was their kind of month. And they belong on that list because they once did something very few pitchers have ever done.

They all won four starts in the same postseason.

And now they have company.

The latest name to join them on that list is a 24-year-old left-hander named Cole Hamels. And with every time the Phillies hand him the baseball, it is becoming apparent that he is one of this sport's most special talents.

He won Game 1 of the 2008 World Series on Wednesday night, beating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 in the Land of the Cowbells. It wouldn't be accurate to say he won that game for his team all by himself. But it WOULD be accurate to say the Phillies won this game, in large part, because Cole Hamels just wasn't going to let them lose it.

"You just got the feeling he was not going to let anything happen to upset that game," teammate Scott Eyre said after Hamels had finished spinning off seven innings of five-hit, two-run domination. "He was going to keep making pitches. And he was going to keep trying to get outs until they told him, 'You're done.'"

He was done, as it turned out, after 102 pitches. He was done because his manager, Charlie Manuel, thought it was time to unleash his unhittable late-inning bullpen tag team, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge, for a devastating, six-up, six-down, three-strikeout grand finale in the eighth and ninth.

World Series: Phillies vs. Rays

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Scouting: Phillies Insider | Rays Insider
But this was Cole Hamels' show. And it's now, officially, Cole Hamels' month. He is having himself an October for the history books. So let's take a look at some of the entries he has already made in those history books:

• He is now 4-0, with a 1.55 ERA, this October, with 27 strikeouts in 29 innings. That makes him only the 10th starting pitcher in history to win four games in one postseason, joining the six names above, plus Dave Stewart, David Wells and Burt Hooton.

• If Hamels gets another start in Game 5, he will have a chance to tie the all-time record for most wins in a single postseason, held by Randy Johnson (2001) and Francisco Rodriguez (2002). But all of K-Rod's wins that year, and one of Johnson's, came in relief. So Hamels is now in position to become the first starting pitcher EVER to win five times in one postseason.

• Hamels also is now only the fourth pitcher ever to win Game 1 of an LDS, LCS and World Series in a single postseason. The other three are Smoltz in 1996, Wells in 1998 and Beckett last year. But Hamels is the only member of that group who won three Game 1s AND a series clincher in one postseason (since he also won Game 5 of the NLCS).

• Finally, Hamels' Game 1 win made him the third-youngest left-handed starter in history to win a World Series opener. Only Babe Ruth and Ray Sadecki (both 23) were younger. And Hamels is the first left-hander to win a Game 1 on the road in 22 years -- since Boston's Bruce Hurst beat the Mets in Shea Stadium in 1986.

So this fellow is making it more clear, with every journey to the mound this month, that he is baseball's most irreplaceable animal -- a genuine, no-question-about-it No. 1 starter. And as his friend, teammate and mentor, Jamie Moyer, put it, "It's great to be on a team that can rely on somebody like that."

Cole Hamels
Cole Hamels allowed just two runs over seven innings in Game 1 of the World Series against the Rays to pick up his fourth win of this postseason.
Yeah, those aces can come in handy, all right. Especially on nights like this. Because if you were going to draw up a formula for How to Win Game 1 of a World Series, "you wouldn't do it THAT way," laughed Jimmy Rollins, after one of his team's strangest nights all season.

Yessir, if you're trying to win Game 1 of the World Series, we really don't advise you to do stuff like becoming the first team in history to go 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position in a World Series game.

And we really don't advise you to try to beat one of the hottest teams on Earth on a night when your leadoff man (Rollins) and cleanup hitter (Howard) go a combined 0-for-8, with five strikeouts.

And we really, really don't advise you to try winning a game in which you leave nine men on base, get another runner thrown out at the plate and foul up two routine ground balls to the first baseman, all in the space of one crazy evening.

"But hey," Rollins chuckled, "it worked."

Yeah, it worked, all right. But the way it worked was so inexplicable that even the men in the middle of it got a little mixed up.

At one point after this game, for instance, Shane Victorino saw an ESPN graphic on a clubhouse TV that said his team had just gone 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

"Wait, we weren't 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position," he yelped.

Uh, yes you were, his favorite gang of media inquisitors informed him.

"Oh, OK, we were," he said. "But I scored."

Right, he was informed. But he didn't score on a hit. He scored on a fourth-inning ground ball.

"OK, we were 0-fer, but we still scored a damn run," Victorino retorted. "So take that 0-fer and shove it up …" (ehhh, no need to finish THIS sentence) … "So we still manufactured a run. We don't have to get a hit to score a run. That's what I meant."

Sure. That's exactly what he meant. Just as soon as he finally figured out what he meant after he meant it. Or something like that.

But whatever he meant, "I'm sure tomorrow will be different," Rollins said. "I'm sure we can't go 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position AGAIN and win another game 3-2. That's hard to do."

No kidding. But they did it. Somehow.

They did it because their irrepressible second baseman, Chase Utley, pounded a two-run homer off Rays starter Scott Kazmir in the first inning of the first World Series game of his life.

Chase Utley
Chase Utley gave Hamels a cushion with a two-run shot off Scott Kazmir in the first inning of Game 1.
And they did it because, in Victorino's words, they "manufactured" an insurance run in the fourth on two singles and two ground ball outs.

But mostly, they did it because the man on the mound, Cole Hamels, was fabulous.

He is arguably the best starting pitcher on either team in this World Series. But more than that, he's the most important starting pitcher on either team. And his teammates seem well aware of exactly how important he really is.

"Our first thought was, we've got Cole Hamels on the mound," Lidge said afterward. "So we need to win."

And if that's the role his team wants to put him in, "he likes being in that position," said his pitching coach, Rich Dubee. "I think Cole's mentality is knowing that he's got stardom written all over him, and he thrives on that position."

So, Dubee was asked, does that mean Hamels goes into games like this knowing he has to win?

"No," Dubee deadpanned. "He thinks he's going to go out and throw a no-hitter."

And on a night like this, facing hitters who have barely seen him before, his teammates joke about just how possible that might be. When Cole Hamels unfurls the most untouchable changeup in baseball (or, at least, the most untouchable changeup thrown by anyone not named Johan Santana), it barely seems like a fair fight.

Asked if he ever feels sorry for hitters who have never seen that changeup before, Eyre replied: "Sometimes, because you know it's coming. When they get two strikes, we're all out there in the bullpen going, 'Here it comes.' And they swing right through it."

Oh, the Rays didn't swing through all of them, not on this night. Akinori Iwamura went 3-for-3 against Hamels, including a two-out, fifth-inning RBI double that narrowed the score to 3-2.

And Carl Crawford, a man who hadn't homered since June 27, hammered a solo homer off Hamels in the fourth.

And Hamels needed two B.J. Upton double-play balls -- including a bases-loaded rocket to third base in the third inning -- to wriggle out of two early jams.

But even though he's only 24, Hamels always seems as if he's in total control -- and not just of these career-defining baseball games, but of himself.

"He was walking around this afternoon like it was just another game," Moyer said. "I went out in the dugout early [Wednesday] before the game, and I sensed it even there. We had a conversation, and it was not like, ho-hum, who cares. It was, 'I'm ready to pitch. I've done all my prep work. And now I'm ready to go.' And he does it not with arrogance, not with cockiness. It's just confidence. It's just, 'I expect to go out and do it.' "

Hamels has talked often of wanting to be the guy on the mound in these games, in these moments. But even he says it hasn't hit him yet that this is the World Series.

"I think I'll still kind of play it slow and easy until the World Series is over," he said, "until I really get excited about it."

But if he wants to wait another week to figure out where he is and what he's done, that's cool with his teammates -- because they understand exactly what they're watching. They're watching greatness unfold before their eyes. And even better, they're watching it in the the month that matters more than all the other months.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.