Cole Hamels grew up watching Andy Pettitte pitch important playoff games and still tries to imitate his icy glare on the mound.
When the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees play Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night, Hamels will try to beat one of his boyhood heroes.
The young kid vs. the old October pro could be another classic pitching matchup.
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“Andy Pettitte and Tom Glavine, those were the guys I emulated growing up when I was a little kid,” the 25-year-old Hamels said of two fellow left-handers Friday. “They were always in the playoffs. I always got to watch them. They always pitched big games and they won.
“Andy Pettitte has been very effective for a long time, and he’s always the kind of guy I’ve looked at and hoped to be one day in his shoes. Now I’m here and I’m going to be able to face him in the World Series and he’s on the Yankees again. So it’s just kind of a big game.”
It’s important for plenty of reasons. The defending champion Phillies split the first two games with New York at Yankee Stadium. There’s a chance they’ll face Yankees ace CC Sabathia again in Game 4. That puts more pressure on Hamels to win Game 3. Pettitte, obviously, is no slouch.
Pettitte has more postseason victories than any pitcher in major league history. He has four championship rings. The 37-year-old earned his 16th postseason win in the ALCS clincher against the Los Angeles Angels, breaking a tie with John Smoltz. It was his fifth victory to close out a postseason series – another major league record.
Overall, Pettitte was 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA this year. He’s 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA in three postseason starts.
Last October, Hamels looked like a young Pettitte. He went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts, helping the Phillies win the second World Series title in franchise history. Hamels earned MVP honors in the NLCS and the World Series. Those awards and his dominant performance raised expectations.
The tall, slender Hamels never was shy about discussing his lofty goals. His to-do list includes winning Cy Young Awards, starting All-Star games and pitching no-hitters. Hamels didn’t check any of those off this season.
Instead, he struggled from the start. A minor elbow injury slowed him down in spring training and he wasn’t ready to go on Opening Day. Hamels then ran into some bad luck in April when he was forced to leave early in two straight starts because of freak injuries.
Hamels finished 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA, numbers that resemble a journeyman pitcher; not someone who hopes to end up in Cooperstown. He hasn’t come close to duplicating his postseason success this year, going 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA in three starts.
“I think that some of it was I wasn’t able to locate as well earlier in the season,” Hamels said. “Then it’s the mental burden which can kind of wear you down week after week of not being able to go out there and do what you’re expecting yourself to do. And then what everybody else expects you to do, too. So it’s been a growing process.”
Outsiders look at Hamels and think he’s pitching hurt. After all, he’s too talented to struggle, right? But he’s not injured. Hamels wouldn’t hesitate to pull himself from a game for health reasons. His problems are more mental and systematic. Hamels breezed through his first three seasons, relying on a sharp fastball and an outstanding changeup. Hitters have figured that out. Pitching coach Rich Dubee stressed to Hamels the importance of throwing a curveball. He’s worked it into his repertoire, and his success often depends on how well he’s throwing the hook.
“You need to be able to throw quite a few pitches in the big leagues,” Hamels said. “I know I can throw my fastball and changeup for strikes any day of the week. But being able to throw a curveball and mixing that in changes the eye level, and with that, it’s a different speed than my other two pitches.”
Recently, Hamels has looked visibly frustrated when things don’t go right. In Game 1 of the NLCS at Los Angeles, Hamels showed up teammates Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley when they failed to turn what should have been an inning-ending double play.
Perhaps Hamels could take a page from Pettitte, who doesn’t let anything bother him. Pettitte pulls his cap low over his eyes, blocks everything out and has tunnel vision with the catcher.
“I just wanted to try to simplify it as much as I can and just see the mitt and try to see my ball going to where I want it, almost visualizing the pitches before I throw them and stuff like that,” Pettitte said.