PHILADELPHIA -- When Cole Hamels awoke on the morning of his first start in this year's postseason, there was one thing that made his wife think this trip to the playoffs was going to be different: He was the same.
That's right, Hamels' wife Heidi saw that her husband hadn't changed, and it was as if he were going to the field like any other day. And that, his friends, family and teammates believe, is what's made the difference this year.
Hamels has always been mature for his age, but in the past year he's taken a giant leap forward in learning more about himself, and how he approaches his job. And it was how he approached his job in Philadelphia's 3-2 win over the Dodgers on Thursday night that left teammates impressed.
"In a game like [Thursday night's NLCS Game 1], where he throws seven innings and gives up two runs," said Phillies closer Brad Lidge, "is just as impressive to me -- from a mental standpoint -- than when he throws eight shutout innings."
Heidi had told reliever Chad Durbin that she felt Cole was the same person he had been all year, and that she knew that this postseason would be different. Hamels had admitted to feeling uneasy last year when he made the first postseason start of his career; he walked four and gave up three runs in a loss to the Rockies. The Phillies were swept and it was over.
But Hamels was determined to not have the same doubt and nervousness. And he sure didn't show it when he shut out the Brewers for eight innings in a dominant performance in the NLDS.
Lidge said he actually learned more about his teammate on Thursday night, when Hamels struggled early.
"It just shows you he's always going to be in the game and be competitive and grind it out," Lidge said. "Maybe a younger guy can get rattled."
The thing is, Hamels is young. He's just 24 years old. It's hard to believe that the former first-rounder has been in professional baseball for six years. But it's been a long road of injuries and questions about whether Hamels would fulfill the hype that he could be the next great left-hander to dominate the game. He's already in some pretty good company.
In spite of his early struggles against the Dodgers, Hamels got the win and became the first Phillies pitcher to win Game 1 of two different series in the same postseason. The only other Phillies pitcher to win a Game 1 more than once in his career is Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.
When Hamels got into a bar fight in 2005 and had to have surgery on his pitching hand, that didn't help his image, or perhaps how some people perceived his maturity.
"I think he's a little more mature than [his age] says," 45-year-old Jamie Moyer said. "Some of the situations that he's been through, as far as injury, early in his career, [resulted] in the skepticism that maybe has been put upon him up until this year."
Moyer has worked a lot with Hamels this year, teaching him about what it means to pitch. Hamels has slowed himself down and learned how not to show his emotions. The tutoring clearly has paid off. Hamels hit career highs in both starts (33) and innings pitched (227 1/3), and the left-hander finished the season 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA.
It's culminating this postseason; he's allowed only two runs in 15 innings.
And Lidge echoed what many in the clubhouse think: When Hamels pitches, the Phillies expect to win.
"When you let that first pitch go," Hamels said, "most of the nerves disappear."
Is he a big-game pitcher?
"I hope so," he said.
Despite his laid-back temperament, Hamels' friends say he has the desire to be one of the best. His good friend, Andy Baldwin, pitched with Hamels in the minors before he was traded to the Mariners.
"I think he's driven but is smart enough not to put too much pressure on himself," Baldwin said. "When it's said and done, he'll be up there [with some of the best left-handers]."
His mentor Moyer didn't want to take it that far. Moyer said if Hamels continues to stay focused and learns from missteps, then he'll grow into his potential, whatever that is.
"He's learning who he is, especially for a 24-year-old," Moyer said. "I think that what's really happening is he's learning who he is. If he tells you next month, or next spring who he is -- he's got a lot to learn because I'm 45 and I don't know who I am."
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.