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Hamels, Phillies lose focus against Astros

Hamels, Phillies lose focus against Astros HOUSTON - Cole Hamels, the self-aware ace striving to mature, has encountered many issues during this frustrating season. But primary among them has been a recurring inability to stay calm when faced with adversity.

Viewed through that crucial prism, yesterday's 4-3 Phillies loss to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park featured mixed results. The way Hamels, manager Charlie Manuel, and pitching coach Rich Dubee presented it, the pitcher fell victim to bad luck, Michael Bourn's speed, and good hitting. Hamels returned after a frustrating fifth inning to pitch a perfect sixth, perhaps demonstrating a steadier approach.

But traces of Hamels' self-defeating behavior were also evident. The 25-year-old has admitted to failing unforeseen tests of his composure this year. With less than dominant stuff at times, he has often allowed bad at-bats to become bad innings, which have devolved into bad games. Hamels knows that if he does not improve this, he will not be a consistent starter.

At one point this summer, Hamels said that a July 1 loss in Atlanta was his nadir. Then, after inconsistency persisted, an Aug. 21 defeat to the New York Mets at Citi Field became a newfound realization that he should just relax, trust his ability, and stay cool during bad innings.

Yesterday was not as unimpressive as those low moments, but neither did it resemble Hamels' recent wins. The frustration was clear in the lefthander's actions, which preceded the game-deciding hits. In the third inning, when the home plate umpire deemed a close pitch out of the strike zone, Hamels raised his arms and chirped. He later allowed an RBI single to Lance Berkman.

The fifth inning, which Hamels entered with a 2-1 lead, began with infield singles by Bourn and Kazuo Matsui. With Matsui batting, Hamels threw to first and appeared to have Bourn picked off, but the speedy former Phillie beat Ryan Howard's throw to second for the second time in the game.

Hamels, who had not allowed one hard-hit ball in the inning, stepped onto the grass behind the pitcher's mound, placed his hands on his hips, and paused for several seconds.

Two batters later, Carlos Lee knocked a two-run single on a well-located fastball. Hamels then threw two quick balls to Miguel Tejada before putting his hands at his hips again, and later allowing a 3-1 RBI double.

"He's probably mad at himself, that's what I saw," said Manuel, who stressed that Hamels' behavior did not bother him. "He wants to do better, and that's just him showing some emotion. It's easy to sit there and not really show any emotion when everything is going your way, you're striking people out and they're not hitting the ball hard and you're putting the ball where you want to.

"I don't think there is anything wrong with a guy, if he gets mad at himself, to show some determination, or emotion, or a little fire in him."

"His body language was OK today," Dubee said. "If it was like the other times, he wouldn't have come out and pitched the way he did in the sixth."

The team surely would have preferred a stopper-like performance in a weekend filled with ugly reminders of the Phillies' many issues. Their presumed top two playoff starters, Hamels and Lee, both lost; beleaguered closer Brad Lidge had his 10th blown save of the year Saturday; and deeply slumping leftfielder Raul Ibanez appeared lost before knocking two singles late in yesterday's game.

"You don't want to lose and lose and lose," Hamels said after the Phils dropped their third straight. "Especially to a team that's not in the hunt."

Contact staff writer Andy Martino at 215-854-4874 or

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Added: September 7, 2009

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