Cole Hamels had it last night. He had an easy rhythm reminiscent of last year's World Series, he had a precise fastball, he had the Yankees down, 3-0. Then, in a quick turn fitting for his unhappy season, the lapsed ace lost it all.
He lost the ability to control his pitches, lost the lead, and lost the chance to redeem his inconsistent year. And because of Hamels' collapse, the Phillies lost Game 3 of the World Series to the New York Yankees, 8-5, and now trail, two games to one.
Phillies righthander Joe Blanton faces Yankees lefty CC Sabathia in Game 4 tonight.
"That's been the story of my whole season," Hamels said. "I can cruise through hitters, then all of a sudden - boom. I don't hit small speed bumps. I hit big ones."
Early on, Hamels located his pitches with a precision that eluded him for long stretches this summer. The game began 80 minutes late because of rain. At 9:17 p.m., Hamels delivered his first World Series pitch since accepting the Series MVP trophy last November. It was a change-up, and it floated to the outside corner for a called strike against Derek Jeter. Jeter grounded out, as did Johnny Damon. That brought up Mark Teixeira, who in Game 2 hit one of the two home runs that doomed the Phils.
Hamels placed a two-strike fastball on the outside corner for a called strike three. The pitcher's success is in many ways reliant on his ability to point his fastball to that spot, so the fast first inning appeared to bode well for his performance. He threw 13 pitches in the opening frame, 11 for strikes.
The lefthander came back with a strong second after hitting Alex Rodriguez with the first pitch of the inning. Hamels again showed superior fastball command, particularly when Robinson Cano waved at an 89-m.p.h offering on the inside corner for a strikeout.
With an explosive second inning off Yanks starter Andy Pettitte, the Phils' offense handed Hamels a comfortable lead. Jayson Werth led off and bashed a 3-2 slider over the left-field shall. Pettitte's trouble continued when Pedro Feliz, hitless in the Series until then, knocked a loud double to right, and Carlos Ruiz walked. Hamels laid down a bunt that halted on the infield grass between Pettitte and catcher Jorge Posada; he reached first without a throw, loading the bases for Jimmy Rollins.
Rollins became the third batter of the inning to see a 3-0 count, then walked on five pitches to give the Phils a 2-0 lead. Shane Victorino added a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0, but Chase Utley struck out to end the inning, granting the Yanks a reprieve from being left behind early.
Pettitte had thrown 51 pitches by the end of two innings, but he ultimately lasted six. His recovery began with an eight-pitch third, after which he stabilized, and the Phils' offense flattened - particularly Utley and Ryan Howard, who were 0 for 8. Howard struck out three times and has nine strikeouts in the Series.
"The big thing for Pettitte was he shut down our lefthanded hitters," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
That allowed the Yankees to charge back against a crumbling Hamels. Teixeira drew a one-out walk in the fourth, ending the pitcher's effectiveness: After that moment, the Yanks were 5 for 8 with a walk and a home run against Hamels.
The home run came immediately. Rodriguez hit what was originally ruled a double, though the ball bounced off a camera that extended past the right-field wall. After consulting video replays, the umpires awarded Rodriguez a two-run homer, making it 3-2 Phillies.
Hamels' problems with pitch location led to homers all season, and the fastball that Rodriguez manhandled arrived in the middle of the strike zone. It was Rodriguez's first hit of the Series, the first use of instant replay in World Series history, and a record-tying seventh home run allowed in one postseason for Hamels.
Hamels' weakest pitch, the curveball, spoiled his night. After throwing almost exclusively fastballs and change-ups in the first four innings, the lefthander allowed a leadoff double in the fifth to Nick Swisher on a curve, then a one-out, run-scoring single to Pettitte on the same pitch.
The Yankees were unrelenting. After a Jeter single, a Damon double, and a Teixeira walk, the Phils trailed by 5-3, and Hamels' night was over. J.A. Happ, the rookie-of-the-year candidate assigned to the bullpen during the playoffs, entered and retired Rodriguez and Posada, although he allowed a home run to Swisher in the sixth that made it 6-3.
Manuel, like Hamels, noted the stark difference between the pitcher's early performance and his midgame effort. "If he can do it for three innings, why can't he keep going?" the manager said.
Werth quickly countered with another homer, bashed off the advertisement that hangs off the second deck. That drew the Phils closer at 6-4, but Posada snatched the run back with a run-scoring single in the seventh.
The Phils never recovered from Hamels' disappointing night.
"I guess I've got a lot to learn," the pitcher said.
Hamels' Tale of Two Postseasons
What a difference a year makes for 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels, who has struggled mightily in some important games this postseason.
GS IP ER ERA W- L HR K BB
2008 5 35 7 1.80 4-0 2 30 9
2009 4 19 16 7.58 1-2 7 15 4