ST. PETERSBURG — Finally, the comparison of Scott Kazmir and Cole Hamels that really mattered: Game 1 of the World Series.
The left-hander, 24, selected 17th overall in 2002, had been compared with Kazmir, selected two spots before, from the time they were school boys. Any further discussions will begin with Wednesday, when the Phillies ace maneuvered through seven innings, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks despite admittedly not being sharp after a long layoff.
Hamels, who had last pitched in the National League Championship Series clincher Oct. 15, was sharp enough, striking out five and seeing his postseason ERA rise from 1.23 to 1.55. He improved to 4-0 in four starts with 27 strikeouts in 29 innings.
"Cole's pretty good, man," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I'm glad he pitches for us."
Hamels was not dominating but used his breaking pitches to dazzle the Rays when it mattered.
"He threw the changeup about like usual," Manuel said. "Actually, I like to see him throw a few more curveballs. He has a tremendous feel for the pitch. That was about the normal amount of changeups."
Hamels twice induced B.J. Upton into inning-destroying double plays, in the first after Chase Utley's two-run homer put Philadelphia ahead and again in the third.
"The lineup they have is devastating," Hamels said. "They can hit the long ball. I was very aware of that. (Upton) can change the game in an instant. Being able to get him was a big momentum swing."
Hamels allowed a two-out solo homer to Carl Crawford in the fourth — just his second homer allowed in the postseason — and the Rays pulled to within 3-2 in the fifth when Jason Bartlett walked and scored on a double to the left-centerfield wall by Akinori Iwamura.
"I think any time Cole pitches, I feel like we're going to win," Manuel said. "He has a good chance to shut somebody out, and he has a good chance to throw a no-hitter sometimes."
Utley said the Phillies don't feel any extra pressure with Hamels on the mound even though he's likely to provide them with a winnable game.
"We do feel confident when Cole is on the mound," he said. "I don't think he had his best stuff (Wednesday), but he kept them off balance and made some good pitches. And it was huge."