PHILADELPHIA — The Rays saw from the batters box just how dominating Cole Hamels was through last postseason as he baffled them twice on his way to the World Series MVP award.
And they can see from their couches how different things are this year, as the Phillies left-hander starts Game 3 of the Series tonight after weathering many of the same struggles the Rays' young pitchers did coming off their extended 2008 performances.
"Last year was definitely a big workload, but I didn't notice it. I just went out there and pitched, and I enjoyed it," Hamels said Friday. "You get into the offseason and you kind of don't know what to do. You get a little paranoid. Should I throw? Should I take time off? And it kind of throws you off from your normal schedule of whatever your throwing program is because you played an extra month. And if you haven't done that, which most of us hadn't done in this organization, you don't know how to treat it."
As the Rays instructed their pitchers to do, Hamels decided it would be better to do less during the offseason baseball-wise. That turned out — both he and general manager Ruben Amaro said — to be his first mistake, as he had injury issues before he even left Clearwater and wasn't sharp to start the season.
Hamels' next mistake was doing too much off the field, swayed by offers resulting from his success and having a quasi-celebrity wife: Heidi Strobel of Survivor and Playboy magazine fame.
"I think it's hard when you kind of — your popularity changes, opportunities come, you take them, and you learn," Hamels said. "So it's something I learned."
Hamels, 25, also learned the fickleness of his occupation, as the slight differences in his performance (specifically a lack of command and loss of confidence in his curveball) led to a major decline in perception: From the wonderboy who went 14-10, 3.09 ERA last season and 4-0, 1.80 in five postseason starts to the wonder of what's wrong as he went 10-11, 4.32 this year and 1-1, 6.75 in his first three playoff starts.
"I think that some of it was I wasn't able to locate as well earlier in the season," Hamels said. "And then it gets frustrating because I've been able to locate pitches and been able to throw to hitters and get guys out that you know you should get out, and you're not. So that becomes frustrating.
"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 in that sort of a way. It's something that I think a lot of guys have had to go through."
No doubt, and Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Andy Sonnanstine would be among them, as all dropped off this season as well.
Hamels, though, has the chance to redeem himself with a return to the Series. And Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, while acknowledging Hamels' shortcoming this season, is confident he can.
"Every time I give him the ball, I think he's very capable of going out and throwing a shutout. I believe that," Manuel said. "(In baseball) every day is different, and every time he goes out and pitches it's different in some ways. Like (Ted) Williams says, every at-bat is an adventure. Every time he goes out and pitches it's an adventure.
"But I know he has the talent to shut them down, and I've got a lot of confidence in him, and he's got a lot of self-confidence, too. And I think he's going to do good."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]com.