LOS ANGELES -- Perhaps it would have been a road game for most pitchers, but the laid-back Southern Cali kid came into the game of his life feeling at ease.
When Cole Hamels took the mound here on Wednesday night, he did so having grown up 120 miles to the south of this city, and he was comforted by all that felt familiar: pitching in a pitchers' park, and facing a team he secretly harbored an affection for, despite growing up in San Diego.
"I think I was more of a front-runner fan because the Padres stunk when I was growing up," Hamels said. "The Dodgers were good and I was kind of able to go along with them."
So he wore Dodgers jerseys on his Little League teams, and when it was time to pitch in the adult playground in the clinching game of the National League Championship Series, Hamels spun yet another gem. He allowed just one run on five hits over seven innings, helping the Phillies to a 5-1 victory over the Dodgers and a 4-1 series win.
Hamels, who was 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings against the Dodgers, was named Most Valuable Player of the NLCS.
"All the teams I was on growing up were either the Dodgers or the Phillies," Hamels said, "so it makes for a good little fairy-tale story."
Indeed. Hamels is taking his team to the World Series, and he's morphed -- seemingly overnight, on this stage -- into not just one of the one of the elite left-handers in the game, but perhaps one of the best pitchers overall. The sample size may be small, but so far his returns are in the numbers, especially this postseason. And his mentor, 45-year-old Jamie Moyer, couldn't be happier.
"It was a huge thrill; I almost felt like a father," Moyer said. "This is just part of the maturing process for him, and I'm so happy for Cole."
The numbers alone would make Moyer smile: Hamels struck out 13 in 14 NLCS innings and walked five. He opened the series as the ace, setting the tone in the first game, and closing it out on the road. He's now 3-0 overall this postseason with a 1.23 ERA; in 22 innings, he struck out 22 and held opponents to a .173 batting average.
"He's a perfectionist to a fault," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He's such a talent, and he's a frontline starter, and this kid wants to be out there when the game is on the line. When we get a lead -- generally when Cole is right -- he doesn't relinquish it."
At just 24 years old, Hamels is already second on the Phillies' postseason list in wins, his three trailing Steve Carlton's six. Most will tell you in his clubhouse that his maturity is evident. His wife, Heidi, said that she envies his ability to be calm. She can tell right away whether he'll have a good game just by his body language.
"When he gets nervous, he tries harder than he has to," she said on the field. "You can tell because he won't locate his pitches as well when he tries too hard. Tonight, I could tell right away he was relaxed."
And his calm demeanor, cool approach and overall seemingly advanced age are all part what drew Heidi to her husband.
"He's more mature than most people I meet in their 40s or 50s," she said. "He's just somebody who gets it. You don't really have to describe a lot of life to him. It's like he's already been there before. And I think that's what helps him on the mound; you can kind of tell he's like, 'I've been here before.' "
And it was with that wisdom Hamels decided to have just four family members here instead of what could have been a fleet of friends and family. His brother Mitch, Heidi and her sister and her sister's husband were the lone Hamels representatives. They watched with pride at what Cole was able to do.
"Just talking about [playing in the big leagues] when we were young, and it's a dream come true right now," his brother Mitch said. As for why he thought his brother was able to have the success this postseason, Mitch added, "He's head strong, a lot of confidence and the ability to throw from point A to point B is amazing."
It was one reason why Hamels brought confidence into this game, into this park. He said he knew that in order for the players to hurt him, they'd have to hit the ball extremely well, so it helped settle him down. The only time in the game where it was unclear whether Hamels was starting to tire was in the seventh inning.
Just before Manuel left the mound, Hamels had a smile on his face. He was staying in the game, and Jeff Kent stood the plate. After getting behind in the count 2-1 to Kent, Hamels pumped two fastballs for strikes past the 40-year-old second baseman, who looked at both pitches to end the inning. Kent was furious at the last call, appearing to tell home plate umpire Mike Winters the ball was low. That was no matter to Hamels, who had already made his way to the dugout, happy he was able to fulfill his manager's expectations.
"Just to prove [Manuel] right, I love doing it," Hamels said. "I wish I could do it all the time, but I know it's baseball, you can't be perfect."
Hamels wasn't perfect, but the Phillies know that riding him and all his imperfections has taken them this far, with the World Series now in their sights.
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.