LOS ANGELES -- From the front seat of a police cruiser to the delivery room, Cole Hamels has thoroughly enjoyed his earliest days of fatherhood. But now the Phillies' left-hander finds himself determined to once again taste the October jubilation that he encountered last year.
Having spent the past weekend in Philadelphia tending to his wife and their newborn son, Hamels was physically removed from his Phillies teammates. But while they were wrapping up their National League Division Series in dramatic fashion against the Rockies in Denver, the 25-year-old left-hander was monitoring every pitch and mentally preparing to make his next start.
That assignment will come at Dodger Stadium on Thursday night, when Hamels starts Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against a Dodgers team that he easily controlled during this same round of last year's postseason.
"I think he's going to have fun out there," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "I've heard having a baby gives you a different perspective on life. There's more meaning. Hopefully that will show up on the mound. You know that's going to be in the back of his head."
Knowing that his wife, Heidi, and their son, Caleb Michael, are healthy and stable back in Philadelphia, Hamels will enter this start with his head much clearer than it was on Thursday afternoon, when he took the mound against the Rockies in Game 2 of the National League Division Series knowing that he was just a phone call away from being a father for the first time.
Loves to face: Andre Ethier, 1-for-10 Hates to face: Ronnie Belliard, 7-for-26, .538 SLG
Loves to face: Shane Victorino, 1-for-8, 0 XBH, 0 BB Hates to face: Chase Utley, 3-for-10, 2 XBH, 2 BB
Why he'll win: Has owned Dodgers in regular season and playoffs
Why he'll win: Dominant at Dodger Stadium
Pitcher beware: 0-6, 5.44 in day games
Pitcher beware: Phils have had his number
Bottom line: Star of 08 NLCS is back for more
Bottom line: Ready for his close-up
A short time after allowing four earned runs in five innings against the Rockies, Hamels was alerted that he had to leave Citizens Bank Park immediately to be with his wife, who had gone into labor. Within a flash, he jumped in the front seat of a police cruiser and was taken to Lankenau Hospital, where on Friday morning his son was born.
"Best cop ride I had ever been a part of when I wasn't in the back," Hamels said. "Just being able to be there with my wife and my family and then to go through that process of the labor and then all of a sudden the birth -- it was definitely an emotional day."
Hamels was with his family on Sunday night, when the Phillies hung on to win Game 3 of the NLDS. But knowing that he was going to have to be ready to pitch Game 5, which would have been played on Tuesday, the cerebral southpaw opted to watch the entirety of Monday's dramatic Game 4 win, while working out at Citizens Bank Park.
When the Rockies produced their three-run eighth to take the lead, Hamels found himself preparing to pitch the following night. When his Phillies teammates came back to score three runs with two outs in the ninth, he began turning his attention toward the Dodgers.
"In a split second it all changed and everything was all happy," Hamels said. "I almost felt like I was there with them."
Consistent happiness eluded Hamels as he went 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA in 32 regular season starts this year. But in the process of battling the mental fatigue that built during the memorable 2009 season, the reigning World Series MVP still managed to continue baffling the Dodgers.
Hamels limited the Dodgers to two earned runs in seven innings while getting a no-decision on May 14 in Philadelphia. Then on June 4, he victimized them with the five-hit shutout that he twirled atop a Dodger Stadium mound that he's found to be friendly.
In three career starts (including last year's postseason) at this park, Hamels has gone 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA. This success has been enjoyed by his friends and family members who have been able to make the short drive from his hometown of San Diego.
"It's just a nice field to play at," Hamels said. "I'm fortunate enough to be able to pitch here for Game 1."
While earning the win in Game 1 of each of the three rounds that the Phillies conquered last year, Hamels proved capable of setting the tone for his teammates, who still have faith in his ability to once again encounter October success.
"I think Hamels can pitch anywhere, any day, any time," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I've come to the conclusion that he has that kind of mentality, and he has that kind of fight about him and desire and determination."
Hamels also has history on his side. During his two starts against the Dodgers in last year's National League Championship Series, he went 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA.
This certainly wasn't out of the ordinary. During his six career starts (including the postseason) against the Dodgers, Hamels has gone 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA. In the process, he has certainly drawn respect.
"He's got a great fastball, he's got a great changeup and he's got a great curve," Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez said. "When he's got those three pitches working, he's unhittable."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.