Phillies lefthander, one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, took the mound for his first-ever appearance in the World Series. He seemed in complete command as his team staked him to a 2-0 lead.
Cole Hamels in last night's opener of the 2008 World Series between the Phils and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field? Well, yes actually. But the same exact scenario could have been written about Steve Carlton in Game #2 of the 1980 World Series against the Kansas City Royals at Veteran's Stadium, spotlighted in a story at this blog just two days ago.
Though there are differences, there are also many similarities shared by the two most talented left-handed starting pitchers to ever don Phillies pinstripes.
Carlton mixed in a moving fastball and a solid curveball with his devastating signature slider. Hamels mixes in that same fastball-curveball combo with his own devastating changeup. Both have led the Phillies as the staff pitching ace into the World Series. And now both can say that the team won their start, albeit after overcoming a few bumps in the road during the game.
'Super Steve' mowed down those Royals through five shutout innings, but KC got to him for three runs in the 7th. He ultimately went eight innings, allowing 10 hits and six walks, but the Phils won the game 6-4 thanks to their own four-run 8th inning rally.
Hamels had to endure his own rough stretch, but was ultimately in far greater control than Carlton had been. The young lefty mowed through the first two innings without a scratch, usually a sign that the other team is in for a long night.
Tampa Bay loaded the bases in the 3rd before Hamels induced young Rays' star outfielder B.J. Upton to hit into a doubleplay to end the inning. In the Phils 4th, Carlos Ruiz knocked in Shane Victorino with a groundout and Hamels had a 3-0 lead. Carl Crawford then touched Hamels for a two-out solo homerun in the bottom of the inning and cut that lead to 3-1.
The Rays then rallied again in the 5th, but Hamels induced another doubleplay to get out of the jam. This time it came courtesy of a nice play by 3rd base glove whiz Pedro Feliz. Hamels then settled down and went through the 7th inning without being challenged further.
Manager Charlie Manuel then turned the ball over to the bullpen combo of setup man Ryan Madson and closer Brad Lidge. What that has meant for the Phillies this season has been an automatic victory. Madson and Lidge would close it out without incident, and the Phillies had a key victory in this pivotal Fall Classic opening matchup.
Hamels had yet another strong outing to pad his already bulging playoff resume. He won the NLCS MVP award as a pair of his strong starts led the Phils into the Series. He had previously been strong in last season's NLDS loss to Colorado, and in this year's NLDS victory over Milwaukee.
Cole Hamels is proving that he may be Carlton's talent equal, though he still has many years to go before he can think of joining 'Lefty' in the Hall of Fame. But his performance last night has the Phils up in this Series.
Now it is Brett Myers turn. Myers, who plays the 'emotions on his sleeves' ying to Hamels' 'calm and cool' yang, needs to harness his talent and control those emotions. If he does, he can take the Rays bats that Cole made go cold and put them on some seriously thin ice in this World Series.