On Monday night, NBC Sports Philadelphia will begin re-airing the Phillies’ magical 2008 postseason run, all 14 games, culminating with the club’s World Series clincher against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Grab a chair. Find the remote. It’s going to be great.
Before our trip down Memory Lane commences, it’s fair to remind everyone that none of this happens without a 24-year-old kid named Cole Hamels.
Yeah, Jimmy, Chase and Ryan were vital cogs in Charlie Manuel’s victory machine from 2007 to 2011. And guys named Lidge, Madson, Victorino, Werth, Ruiz, Burrell and Stairs — oh, yeah, that Stairs guy — were crucial to the cause, as well.
But Kid Cole was The Man during that October run. The Phillies received some outstanding pitching up and down the staff that month, but Hamels was a cut above. He started five games and the Phillies won all of them. In 35 innings of work, he allowed just seven runs for a glistening ERA of 1.80. He was named MVP of the National League Championship Series and World Series.
Hamels benefited from confidence and momentum in that postseason.
“I had that belief that I was very good and each and every game I was pitching, I felt better and better and better and everything worked out,” he told us a few weeks ago.
The momentum and confidence that Hamels enjoyed was rooted in his first start that postseason: On October 1, in front of 45,929 crazies at Citizens Bank Park, Hamels neutralized the heavy-hitting Milwaukee Brewers in a 3-1 victory in Game 1 of the NL Division Series. Hamels pitched eight shutout innings, scattered two hits, walked one and struck out nine. That’s what you call a tone-setter and you can watch it again Monday night.
The gem against the Brewers was Hamels’ second postseason start. He’d lost Game 1 of the NLDS to Colorado the year before. He walked three batters in the second inning of that game and gave up three runs. The Phils were a quick out in that postseason and the Game 1 loss stuck with Hamels for a year, until he took the mound against Milwaukee that day.
“I got my butt kicked the year before against Colorado and I’m like, ‘Gosh, I don’t want to have another one of those,'" Hamels said. “Game 1 is so important to get things going off right. There were a lot of nerves going in because I didn’t want to repeat ’07. But at the same time, I had to trust myself. Throw that first pitch, get that called first strike and (the nerves) go out the window and you, all of a sudden, calm down.
Hamels had faced the Brewers twice that regular season. They had roughed him up early in the season and he came back to beat them in September.
The Brewers thought they had a good scouting report on Hamels coming into the NLDS. Hamels was a lefty who could locate a plus fastball and dazzle with a great changeup — he didn’t add the cutter until later in his career — and everyone knew that. But on this day, Hamels had something extra up his sleeve: a sharp curveball. It was the difference maker that day and the pitch that helped his postseason — and the team’s on the whole — get off on a strong foot.
“He’d been mostly fastball-changeup against us,” Milwaukee shortstop J.J. Hardy said after that game. “He mixed in that curveball for strikes today and that got us off his other two pitches. This was the best I’ve seen him.”
Hamels has always had a love-hate relationship with his curveball.
On that day, he loved it.
And the Brewers, of course, hated it.
“The curveball always has been a pitch that’s either here … or there,” said Hamels, pretending to toss the latter away like an old apple core. “I had the feel of it that day and if I know I have the feel of my curveball I know hands-down I can win because I have three pitches and they’re all plus.”
Hamels threw 101 pitches through eight innings that day and, with a 3-0 lead, could have pursued a shutout.
“Charlie looked at me like, ‘You want to finish?’ “ the pitcher recalled. “I was like, ‘No. We have Lidge.”
Brad Lidge, who had gone 41 for 41 in save chances during the regular season, survived a bumpy ninth for the save as the Phils opened the best-of-five series with a win.
After stumbling in the first round of the postseason the year before, Hamels knew this postseason would be different. That’s why he deferred to Lidge in the ninth.
“I wanted to save myself for the next series because I knew we were going to the next round,” he said.
See why (once again) Monday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia.