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Hamels on target, Rays off balance

Hamels on target, Rays off balance

ST. PETERSBURG -- Cole Hamels accomplished on Wednesday night what Jon Lester certainly couldn't: defeat the Rays during the postseason.

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The Phillies left-hander kept the Rays off balance for seven innings, mixing his dancing changeup with a curve and fastball to take Game 1 of the World Series, 3-2, at Tropicana Field.

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Hamels is now 4-0 this postseason and became only the fourth pitcher to win the first game of each postseason series since the advent of the three-tier system in 1995.

"Hamels has probably the best changeup, one of the best changeups in all of baseball," Rays manager Joe Maddon said admiringly afterward. "You look at [Johan] Santana or whatever, but this guy is really good. Plus you have to factor in the command. He was very impressive tonight. Lester, they're similar but they're different."

"Lester throws harder. Lester will cut the ball in on your hands. Hamels gets it in, but it's not a cutter."

Boston's ace left-hander lost twice to the Rays in the American League Championship Series, including the climactic Game 7 this past Sunday at The Trop.

Hamels defeated Milwaukee once in the National League Division Series and the Dodgers twice in the NLCS, winning MVP honors of that round for his efforts.

While Maddon was enthralled with the changeup, Hamels said he didn't necessarily rely on it any more than usual.

"I went about it, I guess, the same way that I've done the past couple of games," Hamels said. "Anytime I go out there I try to keep them off balance with the fastball or a changeup or a curveball. I don't really count in my head how many times I throw them. But I know that with [the changeup] being effective I'm going to keep doing it until they make an adjustment."

STONE COLE LOCK
Following his NLCS MVP performance, the Phillies' Cole Hamels continued his postseason mastery in Game 1 of the World Series against the Rays.
Series/Gm Opp.W-LERAIPHRKBB
NLDS Gm 1MILW0.0082091
NLCS Gm 1LADW2.5776282
NLCS Gm 5LADW1.2975153
WS Gm 1TBW2.5775252
Totals4-01.5529185278

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 over seven innings, one coming on Carl Crawford's homer with two out in the fourth inning.

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.

"A pitcher's best friend," Feliz said.

Then in the fifth, Akinori Iwamura doubled home Jason Bartlett with two out, but was stranded by Upton, who fouled out to the right side when first baseman Ryan Howard pulled the ball out of the stands.

"He didn't leave anything over the plate for us to really drive," Upton said. "They were either on the black or just off the zone. He made pitches when he needed to."

When told that Hamels didn't think it was one his particularly masterful games, Upton rolled his eyes.

"It looked pretty good to me," he said.

ONE-MAN SHOW
Since the start of Division Series play in 1995, four pitchers have won three Game 1s (LDS, LCS, WS) in the same postseason.
PitchersTeamYear
John SmoltzBraves1996
David WellsYankees1998
Josh BeckettRed Sox2007
Cole HamelsPhillies2008

The Rays also noted that Hamels' arm slot never varies as he throws different pitches. Some pitchers tip their pitches by altering their delivery. That didn't happen.

"We knew he was good, but I didn't know he was that good," said Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who was 0-for-4 with three of Hamels' five strikeouts. "He made pitches all day and that's what a No. 1 does. He was real good."

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 -- leading 1-0 in this best-of-seven series -- because Hamels has given up a total of five runs in his four postseason starts.

"Yeah, Cole is pretty good, man. I'm glad he pitches for us," Phils manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's been very consistent all year long. When I think about how he pitched tonight, that's kind of like a regular game for him. He can be a little bit better, he can be a little bit sharper, but tonight he was very good. He took us to the right place in the game."

And to a place in the postseason where Jon Lester never did: a win over the Rays.

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.

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