Q & A with Phillies ace Cole Hamels

The updated Cole Hamels bio: World Series MVP last October, Sports Illustrated cover boy this spring, mediocre star-crossed pitcher in the first half of the season.

His freak injuries are behind him now. His 5-5 record and 4.87 ERA before the All-Star break are old news. Hamels is back, the Phillies are back, and the addition of Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay or Indians lefty Cliff Lee could make the team favorites to win back-to-back World Series.

The Phillies host the Cardinals this weekend in a showdown of division leaders (Saturday, MLB on Fox, 4:10 p.m.). Hamels is not scheduled to pitch; he beat the Padres on Thursday night in his second strong performance since the break. Still, he has plenty of thoughts on what went wrong for him in the first half, the Phillies’ resurgence and the tantalizing possibility of the club making a major trade before Friday’s non-waiver deadline.

I spoke with Hamels by telephone Wednesday night. He was his usual honest, enthusiastic self, full of praise for his teammates and excited about the challenges ahead.

Q: Do you feel you are close to where you want to be, back to the old Cole Hamels?

A: I do. I’ve learned a lot about winning the World Series, the opportunities that come with winning the World Series, a few of the most random and interesting sort of injuries and events. It’s almost like I didn’t have a lucky rabbit’s foot or something.

I would make a pitch; most of the time it would be a good pitch and I would get an out. But I wasn’t getting outs. Being able to start over in the second half is good mentally. The first half is over. In the second half, I can just go back to being myself.

Q: Looking back, what happened in the first half?

A: I want to be the guy my teammates can count on. I would try to prevent bad innings from happening. But when they happened, I didn’t know how to handle it. I wasn’t able to get through games. I’m a pitcher. I’m going to give up runs. I need to hold the opponents to one run instead of two or three.

(Teammate) Jamie (Moyer) says, “You’re always one pitch away.” It’s something I totally forgot about. I would think, “I have to throw this and that and this.” But Jamie said, “No, you’re one pitch away.” I had to do things to make it simple. I was making it more complicated than it needed to be.

The Pittsburgh game (on July 11), that is when it finally clicked in. I gave up three runs in the first inning, two runs in the second. But we came back and won (8-7, after a five-run rally in the ninth). I said, “You know what? We can still win.”

Q: How busy was your offseason? How much did that affect you?

A: I thought I never had an offseason. I thought the season just rolled into another season. I never had a mental break. Physically, I was fine. Mentally, I was exhausted.

To be a world champion and everything that comes with it, a different sort of contract, the expectations — it’s sort of like the high life (Hamels signed a three-year, $20.5 million extension with the Phillies on Jan. 18).

I tried not to get caught up in it. But I never had that mental break. And when you’re mentally exhausted, I don’t think you can perform. Coming into the season, I felt physically strong. I didn’t feel mentally there. Now I do.

Q: The Phillies have won 15 of their last 17 games. What is the difference in the club?

A: I’d say confidence. When you’re able to overcome a bad month (the Phillies went 7-17 between June 5 and July 2) and start over and get back to basics, you’re able to play to your capabilities.

We all know our capabilities. We know we’re capable of winning the World Series. We’re all having fun again. We do understand the expectations. We have even higher expectations to be even better than we are. But you have to get away from the expectations, too.

Q: What are your thoughts about the Phillies possibly acquiring Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee?

A: We joke around about it. We do know, especially in Philly, that the media will run with something, try and push it and push it. People will want that to be the end result — “We have to do this or we won’t succeed.”

Our ultimate goal is to win the World Series again. How do you do it? Without Brett Myers … he’s a huge, huge loss, not only on the field, but in the clubhouse. We’re missing what he brings. A guy like Roy Halladay is all that, plus. I don’t think you can go wrong with a guy like that on our team. We understand that if we get someone like Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, it’s going to make you better.

We all understand the importance of prospects. But if the ultimate goal is to win the World Series, you don’t wait for prospects to blossom. I was a prospect at one time. I was untouchable. I’m happy they didn’t trade me. But I don’t think they ever had a guy of Roy Halladay’s or Cliff Lee’s stature on the trade market. Look at CC Sabathia last year. He singlehandedly helped (the Brewers) get to the postseason.

Q: The last two seasons, the Phillies have come from behind to catch the Mets and win the NL East. How different is it now with a 6½-game lead?

A: As a team, we know that we can’t focus on what the other teams in our division are doing. We can’t think, “Uh-oh, they won today, we have to win, we have to keep our lead.” We just need to focus, play the game the right way and everything will take care of itself.

When you’re the underdogs going into the last month, you almost have some extra added energy. If you fail, nothing (bad) will happen. If you’re in the lead and then you fail … look at what happened to the Mets. They were getting dogged, they were getting crushed. You don’t want to be the team that gave it away in the end.

Q: Jimmy Rollins struggled throughout the first half. He was benched.

He was dropped in the batting order. Now that he is hot again, what does it mean to the team?

A: He’s absolutely amazing. Without him in the lineup, our team was dead. To have him leading off the game, getting big hits in the middle of games … he is our sparkplug. Without that sparkplug everyday, that’s why we were struggling. We didn’t have him to get us going. He gets us going harder. When he leads off a game with a hit, you think, “We’re going to get this guy. It’s going to be a good day.”

Q: What are your thoughts on Raul Ibanez?

A: He’s probably one of the most impressive players I’ve witnessed. He’s a quality player. He’s playing like he always has, but nobody knew him in Seattle. Nobody paid attention to him. Now, playing in a big market, playing in the spotlight, he has caught on like wildfire with the fans. There was a lot of pressure on (Ryan) Howard to get that (big) home run. He has taken the pressure off Howard. They’re able to feed off each other.

Q: You guys are the reigning World Series champions. How eager are you to win the Series again?

A: The character we have on this team, the organization did a good job putting the club together. We don’t have quitters. We don’t have players who play for second place. Even though we’ve won it once, we know how to put it in the past and start over. You start over and get back to who you are, what you want to accomplish. And that’s to win.

You have to act like you’re trying to win it for the first time. It’s a hard thing to do, but we have guys who can do it. You might have one or two guys like that on a team. We have a whole team. It’s not about repeating. It’s about winning the World Series. We kind of have to forget that we won it last year. You can’t forget about it in this city, but we try.

Q: The fans get excited, don’t they?

A: They’ve added even more energy, fired us up even more. You saw it in the postseason. Teams came in, and it was a little more stressful for them. They were not only playing against our team, they were playing against the fans. It got us more excited, more pumped up.

We’re enjoying the game. They make us enjoy what we’re doing. They enjoy watching us. That’s something special. We’re affecting a city more than we can possibly understand.