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Phils starter Hamels raises the bar

Cole Hamels had a nice season in 2008, setting career highs in starts, innings and strikeouts. But he's made things look easy in October.

The Philadelphia left-hander has been virtually unhittable in his three postseason starts and gets a richly deserved call tonight for the Phillies in Game One of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

"It's just a case of going out there and feeling comfortable," Hamels said Tuesday prior to the Phillies' workout in Tropicana Field. "I have eight guys behind me who really believe in me. Making a pitch is something that I know I'm capable of doing and that's all I focus on.

"I know there is an excitement level and I think I've been able to hone in on it and control it."

Hamels, 24, went 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA in the regular season, striking out 196 while walking only 53.

In the postseason, he has three of the Phillies' seven wins while using a wicked changeup to post incredible numbers: A 1.23 ERA in 22 innings with 22 strikeouts and just six walks.

"I hear people talking about how he's only won 14 games but don't ever let that number sell him short," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "Every time he walks on the mound I expect him to win. He's definitely capable of shutting a team out. He's capable of throwing no-hitters. I look for him to put us in a place to win."

Hamels was a No. 1 pick of the Phillies in 2002, taken 17th overall. His opponent tonight, Tampa lefty Scott Kazmir, was the 15th pick in the same draft by the New York Mets.

"We were always compared through high school and then being top-round picks," Hamels said. "You kind of get to know a guy, not on a personal level but on a level of respect."

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Still want to say the All-Star Game is meaningless? When things finally ended at 1:37 a.m. on that July morning in Yankee Stadium more than three months ago, the American League was a 4-3 winner in 15 innings. Who was the winning pitcher? Kazmir. The loser? Phillies closer Brad Lidge.

Rays third baseman Evan Longoria stroked the game-tying RBI double with two outs in the eighth and catcher Dioner Navarro made the tag at the plate to keep the NL from scoring a go-ahead run in the 11th.

"We knew the game we were playing really meant something to us because in the long run it would really give us an advantage, hopefully one we really wanted to get in the World Series," Kazmir said. "You couldn't ask for anything more."

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Your Tropicana Field catwalk primer, as provided by the Rays' public relations department:

* There are four catwalks ringing the roof, lettered A, B, C and D. A fair ball hitting the lower two catwalks (C and D) is a home run. A fair ball hitting the higher ones (B and A, which goes to a top height of 194 feet) is in play and can be caught on a ricochet for an out.

* A fair ball that stays on the A or B ring without coming down is a ground-rule double. A foul ball that hits a catwalk is dead.

* In 11 seasons, 96 fair balls have hit catwalks (11 this year). The C ring has been struck the most (56 times).

* Four times, a fair ball has hit a catwalk and not come down. Oddly, three of those have been this season (Boston's David Ortiz and Jason Bay and Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena).

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Eight different teams have made the World Series the last four years and 17 of the 30 clubs in the majors have reached the Fall Classic since 1997. . . . Manuel has not announced his DH. Backup catcher Chris Coste, the ex-Buffalo Bisons Most Valuable Player, is a candidate. . . . This is the sixth Series played in a dome, the first without a retractable roof since Atlanta played at Minnesota in 1991.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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>Live chat at the Series

Buffalo News Inside Baseball columnist Mike Harrington will be fielding your questions live from St. Petersburg, Fla., this morning.

Harrington will be covering the World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies. Game One is tonight and Harrington will preview the action when he conducts a chat at 11 a.m. on the Inside Pitch blog at www.buffalonews.com/blogs.

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