Hamels settles down as Lowe falters

Hamels settles down as Lowe falters

PHILADELPHIA -- The way Derek Lowe was pitching, producing ground balls with characteristic frequency, it seemed doubtful that he would ever cough up his lead. Cole Hamels had already faltered, the victim of some untimely first-inning jitters, and Lowe was in complete command.

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Then he served up one home run. And then another.

"And that," Lowe said, "was all Cole needed."

And so Thursday's Game 1 of the National League Championship Series turned into a crooked sort of pitching duel, with Lowe shining early, Hamels late, and the two of them finishing with dissimilar success.

When Hamels allowed one run on Manny Ramirez's RBI double in the first inning and another on Blake DeWitt's sacrifice fly in the fourth, he presented Lowe with a two-run margin for error. And when Lowe served up both Chase Utley's two-run homer and Pat Burrell's solo shot in the sixth, he used up that entire margin and more. Lowe faltered as the game wore on, while Hamels grew only stronger. And that much made all the difference in Philly's 3-2 win.

"He kept us right there," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I thought when the game started ... he can tell you better than I can, I thought he was a little bit revved up. He was ready to go, raring and ready to go, and he gave up a couple of quick hits early."

Then, virtually nothing else.

"And he ended up pitching very good," Manuel said.

So good, in fact, that he wound up finishing seven full innings despite a pitch count of 84 after the fifth. Hamels used a double play to retire the Dodgers on eight pitches in the sixth inning, before producing three outs -- including two strikeouts -- on 13 pitches in the seventh.

That marked quite a difference from the early innings, when, at one point, he threw first-pitch balls to five consecutive batters.

"Going into the game, I definitely had the nerves that everybody does," Hamels said, trying to explain away his early woes. "You're just so excited to finally be here. You step out on the field. The crowd's going crazy."

Though he said he normally needs just one pitch to erase those jitters, Hamels admitted that it sometimes takes him an entire inning to do so. Thursday proved to be one of those times, after Hamels rediscovered the ability to throw strikes down in the zone.

"You have a crafty pitcher out there," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Cole Hamels, he keeps it together."

The opposite was true for Lowe, who breezed through the first four innings before allowing two hits in the fifth and then three runs in the sixth. Though all the offense can be traced back to Rafael Furcal's throwing error to begin the sixth inning, both Lowe and Torre insisted that the gaffe didn't affect him. And given Lowe's history in postseason games, it seems logical that it didn't.

But whatever the reason for Lowe's ensuing struggle, the fact remains that he did indeed falter. Muttering to himself on the mound, Lowe didn't last much longer, leaving after serving up Burrell's shot with one out.

"He was feeling fine," Torre said. "Just sometimes you get some misguided pitches, and they stay up instead of where they're supposed to be."

Lowe called it the type of game that would cause him to "lose sleep at night," considering that the result boiled down to a fielding error and two bad pitches -- the first of which, Utley claimed, "really wasn't that bad of a pitch." Yet the decisive sixth inning also forced Lowe out of the game, denying him an opportunity to rebound as Hamels had.

And Hamels, given that second chance, wasn't about to relent. Pitching with new conviction throughout the middle innings, he ushered the Dodgers quietly out of Citizens Bank Park with a Game 1 loss.

"He mixes it up pretty good all the time," Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake said. "I thought he was the same guy all night."

And perhaps, for the Dodgers, that was the problem.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.