The Cardinals survived the gauntlet of former Cy Young Award winners Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in the first two games of the best-of-five series and were thrilled to head to Busch Stadium with a split. Now it's up to Hamels to try to grab to the momentum for the Phillies.
But think again if you believe the California-cool Hamels feels any extra pressure.
"Every time I go out, I try to win, no matter what the circumstance is," Hamels said. "I know I have a job to do, and I want to go out, and I want to have success. But at the same time, it's just the small things that really matter. You just have to go out and make it pitch after pitch, and just try to work on that and go from inning to inning."
In many ways the Phillies feel as confident with Hamels on the mound as they did with Halladay and Lee in the first two games of the series. Hamels' extensive postseason resume, coupled with his success this season, means the Cardinals will once again have to battle for everything they get.
"He's a legitimate fit for that rotation," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "We'll do exactly what we've tried to do the first two games. But he's got a lot of ways to get a hitter out, and he's very competitive."
Hamels, 27, put together a terrific season pitching in the shadows of Halladay and Lee in the Phillies' star-studded rotation, going 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA in 32 games (31 starts). He allowed only 169 hits and struck out 194 in 216 innings.
But the Cardinals beat Hamels in their only meeting against him this year, on Sept. 18 in Philadelphia, getting to him for seven hits and four runs in seven innings.
"I think we're all pretty fresh on what to do, what type of approach that I'm going to have toward them, what type of approach they're having toward me," Hamels said. "I wouldn't necessarily have to say that I was watching Doc and Cliff and how they were attacking them, because I know we do have different styles of pitching. But it is kind of nice that I was able to face them a couple starts ago, just to have that familiarity about what to do and what I succeeded in."
Hamels is 6-4 with a 3.33 ERA in 12 playoff starts for the Phillies since 2007. He had a spectacular postseason in 2008, when he went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts and helped the Phillies win the World Series for the first time in 28 years.
Three years later, he hopes he's wiser.
"I think I've become a better pitcher, so I think that kind of helps out with knowing how to pitch," he said. "I think '08, it was just more of ... Sometimes you just have blind luck. And it's like it's said, in the postseason, things are different, and I just happened to be on my game and everything was just working, and I was able to get the runs for me. I didn't really have a really bad inning."
One of the keys for Hamels in facing a Cardinals team that led the league in runs scored will be limiting home run damage. He allowed nine homers in 38 innings in September after giving up 10 in his previous 178 innings this season.
"Actually, I think half of them were bad pitches, and half of them were good pitches and they just happened to hit them," he said. "I know a couple of the homers I gave up to some big-name guys, they happened to just finally get me, and I think that happens in baseball. There were a few, though, I did make some really bad decisions, and the locations weren't the best, probably the pitch wasn't the best, and that's just something that I'm able to fix. "
Of course, the Cardinals proved in Game 2 that they can beat you in other ways, too, even with Matt Holliday out of the lineup. Such bottom-of-the-order players as Ryan Theriot and Jon Jay can be as much of a nuisance as sluggers Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman.
"I think their lineup, they definitely know how to manufacture hit after hit after hit, and I think that's how they really get you going," Hamels said. "They don't just survive off the long ball, even though they're capable of doing that. They definitely know how to play small ball. I think it's just making good pitches, and we do have one of the top defenses, so [it's just a matter of] letting our guys field the ball, and making plays."