Cole Hamels tasted playoff success early in his career, leading Philadelphia to a World Series title in his third season.
Seven years later, he’s hoping to do the same for his new club.
The left-hander takes the mound Friday for the Rangers as they look to bury the Toronto Blue Jays in a 2-0 deficit in the AL Division Series, though they’ll have to do it without one of their stars.
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The Rangers dropped Hamels’ first two starts after acquiring him at the trade deadline, but have won all 10 since. He owns a 3.21 ERA in that span and capped the regular season with his first complete game for Texas, tossing a three-hitter in Sunday’s 9-2 victory against the Los Angeles Angels as the Rangers clinched the AL West.
Hamels (7-1, 3.66 ERA) knows all about postseason glory. He was named the 2008 World Series MVP after going 4-0 with a 1.80 in five postseason starts as a 24-year-old.
He’s 7-4 with a 3.09 ERA in 13 career playoff outings, including 5-1 and 2.01 on the road, though this marks his first taste of postseason action since he threw six scoreless innings in a Division Series win at St. Louis in 2011.
"These are the best moments," he told MLB’s official website. "And you truly don’t have anything to lose but enjoying it, because it’s a special time. Not a lot of us get to experience this."
Hamels is still seeking his first win against Toronto, however, having gone 0-2 with a 6.97 ERA in four meetings.
Thursday’s 5-3 victory has the Rangers looking to take a 2-0 lead, which would put the odds squarely in their favor. Since 2004, 27 teams have fallen into a 2-0 deficit in the division series, and only San Francisco in 2012 came back to win the series, defeating Cincinnati en route to winning the World Series.
Thursday’s loss spoiled Toronto’s first playoff game in 22 years.
"I’m over it," catcher Russell Martin said. "I’m ready to go tomorrow. I’m not a big believer in carrying over to the next day. It’s a completely brand new ballgame. I like our offense, I like our defense, I like our pitching, I like our chances."
Toronto’s Josh Donaldson left in the fifth inning of Game 1 after taking a knee to the head during a slide into second base in the fourth, but he’ll play in Game 2 after passing concussion tests. Jose Bautista, who left with a sore right hamstring, is back in the lineup as well.
The Rangers weren’t as fortunate with Adrian Beltre, who left Thursday’s opener in the third inning after injuring his back sliding into second two innings earlier. Manager Jeff Banister said Beltre, who posted a 1.204 OPS and 33 RBIs over his final 22 regular-season games, may be available to pinch hit.
Toronto outhit Texas 6-5, but the Blue Jays were 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position. All five of the Rangers’ runs came against starter David Price, including three on homers by Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor.
Marcus Stroman (4-0, 1.67) has been outstanding in four starts since returning from a torn ACL suffered in spring training, particularly in the last three where he’s limited opponents to 16 hits and two runs over 22 innings. The right-hander’s performance has even caught the attention of Hamels.
"I think you have to give Stroman some serious credit for what he’s done this year," Hamels said. " … From what he’s been able to do, it’s absolutely tremendous."
Stroman won his only previous start against Texas, throwing seven scoreless innings in a 4-1 home victory July 19, 2014.