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All Eyes on Hamels Once Again

Philadelphia Phillies' Cole Hamels walks back to the mound as Los Angeles Dodgers' James Loney rounds the bases after Loney hit a home run during the second inning of Game 1 of the National League Championship baseball series Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)We’ve waited for that defining moment in Cole Hamels’ season and it just has not arrived.  Tonight can be that defining moment.

When Cole Hamels takes the hill at 8:07 p.m., every single eye in the Philadelphia region will want to see focus, commitment, and grit that has been lacking throughout the better part of this 2009 season.  There have been times when it looked like Hamels was in breakout mode, only to have him relinquish his hold on the situation.

During the regular season, Hamels never kept the ball rolling.  You’d have to go back to May to find a stretch where “Hollywood” was consistent for an elongated period.  For that short duration, he put together four consecutive quality starts, his longest streak of the season.

Things look very much the same here in October, with his two postseason outings reeking of mediocrity.  In both appearances, he’s allowed four runs without getting through six full innings, however, he was lucky enough to walk with a victory in Game 1 of this series against the Dodgers.

In each of his last two starts, and for many during the regular year, Hamels has been unable to locate. Colorado’s Yorvit Torrealba took full advantage of that in Game 2 of the NLDS, connecting on a hanging curveball that reached the seats.  In Game 1 of the NLCS, James Loney went yard early on a fastball middle-in, right in the first baseman’s wheelhouse.  Then came the infamous Chase Utley error in which Hamels lost his cool.  Shortly thereafter, Manny Ramirez took a down and in changeup that caught too much plate and deposited it into the seats.

The reason is frustratingly simple.  Hamels has not been able to mentally lock in on game day the way he had before.  Each season, each game, each pitch even, a pitcher has to keep the opposition on their toes.  Last season, Hamels was sharp enough to minimize his mistakes, especially in the postseason.  But when people see you over and over, your tendencies show, and to counteract that, you must be a step ahead.  Right now, he clearly is not.

Something’s got to give.  It was exactly one year ago when Cole Hamels could do no wrong.  Tonight is the night he can prove to his doubters he’s still that same guy.  A win, and it’s the NL Pennant for a second straight year.  No pressure.

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