On Friday, the Toronto Blue Jays will face a World Series MVP, a guy once whisked off to New York by helicopter so he could recite the Top 10 list for David Letterman.
Cole Hamels will take the mound for the Texas Rangers in Game 2 of their American League Divisional Series in Toronto. He could be called the Rangers' equivalent to David Price – an ace who helped spearhead a run to the postseason after blending in seamlessly with a team who acquired him at the trade deadline.
The 31-year-old left-hander is no stranger to the pressure and attention October baseball brings, having appeared on every magazine and talk show in America after pitching the Philadelphia Phillies to a World Series victory in 2008. He's seen the cold side of the playoffs, too. The very next season, the Yankees knocked him all over the park in Game 3 of a World Series the Phillies would eventually lose. Fans questioned his heart when he said afterward "I can't wait for it to end."
Hamels pitched in the playoffs each year from 2007 to 2011, but hasn't done so since. The man with a 7-4 record in 13 career post-season starts is getting another shot now with a Texas squad few would have picked to be here.
When they acquired him from the Phillies at the deadline, the Rangers sat third in the AL West with a 50-52 record, so it appeared he was being acquired to help lead a push next season. He was to help fill a massive void left when superstar Yu Darvish blew out his elbow in spring training and would miss the year. So when did Hamels start to view this year's Rangers as a possible playoff team?
"I think the moment that I came over," Hamels said Thursday in Toronto as his team prepared for Game 1. "Guys were going to become healthy. I know they're missing a huge piece with Darvish and what he really means to the team and especially to the starting staff, but I think there were enough guys around him that could fill the void."
He figured several injured Rangers would get healthy, and some key acquisitions had brought tremendous improvement to the team's bullpen. He saw lots of offence, too.
Hamels went 7-1 in 12 starts since the acquisition, with a 3.66 ERA. That includes the playoff-clinching season finale last Sunday, when he threw a complete-game three-hitter to deliver Texas a 9-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels and sew up the AL West. He was at the centre of the Texas celebrations.
Texas manager Jeff Banister said he was impressed with Hamels from his introductory news conference, when he spoke affectionately of a team that had just traded him, and then about what he already knew of the players he was joining in Texas.
"He really wanted to come and play with this group of guys; as he started playing, you saw that," Banister said. "This is a guy with so much integrity, character and leadership."
The Jays had reportedly inquired about Hamels much earlier this year, but got the sense he had a no-trade clause regarding Toronto. Hamels had only praise for Toronto this week.
"This is a tremendous city and stadium," Hamels said. "No matter what team we play for, we want to be able to play in front of a high-octane crowd, and this is what Toronto offers. I feel like Philadelphia offered that. I've been to L.A. – L.A.'s offered that. It's the reason we play the game of baseball."
He's known for possessing one of baseball's finest changeups. It's been known to neutralize right-handed hitters.
"When you're here, you try to lay it all out on the line because sometimes you don't get that second chance, and there might not be tomorrow," Hamels said. "And if there is no tomorrow, you've got a lot more months to think about it."