ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Scott Kazmir and Cole Hamels, the lefthanded starters for tonight's first game of the World Series, have never faced each other in the major leagues and, according to Kazmir, have done little more than "said 'hi' and 'bye' a couple times."
But they know each other. They have been compared and matched up side-by-side since they were teenagers. After all this time, in this most amazing of settings, someone gets to take a very big lead in the comparison standings.
"Scott and I were drafted the same year," Hamels said. "He was two picks ahead of me. I think we were always compared through high school and with being a top-round pick. To be finally able to compete against each other at this sort of stage makes things a little bit better."
Kazmir was taken with the 15th pick of the 2002 amateur draft by the New York Mets and Hamels was taken with the 17th pick by the Phillies. Kazmir got to the big leagues quicker, but only because the Mets traded him to Tampa Bay for Victor Zambrano in 2004 and there was no wait for tables in the Devil Rays' rotation.
By the end of last season, Kazmir, a lefty who relies on his fastball control and struggles when it isn't there, already had 35 career wins and had just about had enough of life with the Tampa Bay organization.
"It's tough kind of being the laughing stock of baseball," he told reporters.
Things changed quickly, both for Kazmir and the organization this season. They took the "Devil" out of their name, then beat the devil out of the American League East, putting together a winning record for the first time in the team's 11-year history.
Kazmir missed April with an elbow injury, then was the pitcher of the month for May with a 5-1 record and a 1.22 ERA. Kazmir signed a three-year contract extension worth a guaranteed $28.5 million during that stretch, committing to the team he was ready to leave just months before.
His timing was good, in several regards. The rest of the season, Kazmir was 7-7 with a 4.21 ERA. He fought his fastball, the pitch he must rely upon, and gave up 23 home runs by the end of the season.
"I just thought he got out of his delivery a bit, maybe started overthinking," manager Joe Maddon said. "If he just gets back to 'see glove, throw ball,' he's going to be fine."
Kazmir won a game in the division series against the White Sox, then had two no-decisions in the championship series against the Red Sox, pitching poorly in the first and much better in the second. But he has averaged just a touch over five innings for each of the three postseason starts.
Against Hamels tonight, the guy against whom his career has always been measured, Kazmir will try to stick around a little longer and make the memory last as well. For a change in Tampa Bay, the memories are good this season.
"It's pretty much worth the wait, you could say, for what we've had to go through," Kazmir said. "It's worth everything to be in the World Series after three or four years of getting everything together."
Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.