Once you’ve won a League Championship Series MVP and a World Series MVP, as Cole Hamels did in 2008 with the Philadelphia Phillies, that pretty much seals your postseason legacy. On Wednesday in Toronto, however, the Texas Rangers southpaw will have a chance to gild his October lily.

It won’t be easy. He’ll face the big-bashing Blue Jays and their gauntlet of right-handed power bats, a group that throttled left-handers in the regular season. And he’ll be performing in front of a raucous Rogers Centre crowd that hadn’t soaked up postseason baseball in 22 years prior to Game 1.

If he succeeds, though, Hamels will cement his status as an unquestioned October stud—and propel Texas into the American League Championship Series.

Few imagined the Rangers would find themselves here when they acquired Hamels at the trade deadline. At the time, Texas was mired under .500 and sitting in third place in the AL West. Getting Hamels, who is signed through 2018 with a team option for 2019, felt like a move for the future.

Texas, however, surged past the Houston Astroswho will play a Game 5 of their own Wednesday, setting up the possibility of an all-Lone Star State ALCSand on to the division crown.

Coming into the ALDS, the Jays were heavy favorites. Undaunted, the Rangers took the first two games in Canada. Toronto, however, struck back in Arlington, plating a combined 13 runs in Games 3 and 4 to force Wednesday’s winner-take-all showdown.

Now, the Rangers will hand the ball to Hamels, secure in the knowledge that he’s on familiar ground.

“I think what separates him from a lot of people is that he’s been there, done that, and he knows what it takes to be successful,” Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux said, per Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News. “He knows what the finish line smells like, what it tastes like.”

Rangers skipper Jeff Banister made the same point, per the team’s official Twitter feed:

Hamels has logged 88.2 innings over six postseasons, five with the Phillies. He’s racked up 83 strikeouts and posted a 3.05 ERA during that span and taken the hill in four potential series clinchers.

The good news for Texas? Hamels’ team won all four. Like Maddux said, he knows the taste of victory (which, incidentally, is very close to the taste of champagne). 

But Wednesday might present Hamels’ toughest postseason test. The Blue Jays led all of baseball in runs scored, home runs launched and a host of other statistical categories in the regular season. And they punished southpaws to the tune of an MLB-best .818 OPS.

Several Jays hitters have good career numbers against Hamels: Jose Bautista (3-for-9 with a double), Edwin Encarnacion (5-for-14 with a home run) and Troy Tulowitzki (5-for-15 with two home runs, a triple and four RBI).

In fact, the entire Toronto lineup is swinging easier after appearing to press in Games 1 and 2.

“I think the jitters are gone from this team now,” said Bautista, per Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun. “We’re having better at-bats.”

Here’s an interesting wrinkle to add to this story: When Hamels won his NLCS and World Series MVPs with Philadelphia in 2008, the Phils defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in the Fall Classic. And that Tampa Bay team featured a rookie pitcher by the name of David Price.

Price, of course, is now in the Blue Jays’ dugout, but he won’t start opposite Hamels in Game 5 after making a three-inning relief appearance in Game 4. Instead, the Jays will turn to 24-year-old right-hander Marcus Stroman.

Hamels was 24 in 2008. Now he’s 31, the wizened veteran. 

He’s also not the only option the Rangers and Banister have for a Game 5 starter. Yovani Gallardo is rested and ready. And you can make a case for him over Hamels, as TSN.ca did:

Going to Gallardo seems like the obvious play. The 29-year-old Mexican went five innings in the Game 1 win, allowing two runs on four hits. Those runs were the first surrendered by Gallardo against the Jays this season in three starts. In two regular season starts against the Jays, Gallardo threw 13.2 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing just six hits and holding the Jays to an average of just [.136].

Hamels, however, has the pedigree. Yes, some of the Jays’ best hitters have knocked him around in the past. Yes, he looked mortal in Game 2, surrendering four runs and six hits in seven frames and taking a no-decision as the Rangers prevailed in 14 innings.

Ultimately, though, Texas is wisely leaning on Hamels’ sterling October resume and the fact that the team has won his last 11 starts dating back to Aug. 17.

If the Rangers make it an even dozen Wednesday, they’ll be ALCS-bound. They will have pulled a David on Toronto’s mighty Goliath. And Cole Hamels’ postseason legacy will be sealed even tighter.


All statistics current as of Oct. 13 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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