Monday, May 7, 2012

Message Sent

For a long time I have been of the thought that a baseball player should be hard-nosed, tough as nails, and just generally a mean sonofabitch. Lenny Dykstra comes to mind as the person who made me think this was the type of ballplayer I liked. Chase Utley has come around and done the same thing, this time with class. What guys like Lenny and Chase do on the field exemplifies the characteristics you need to win baseball games. They send messages to their opponents as well as their teammates by never letting off the gas during a marathon season.

Pitchers used to send messages too. Guys like Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan sent messages. If a player was out of line or a statement needed to be made Ryan and Gibson never had an issue coming inside with a little chin music or even plunking a guy. Until yesterday I did not think “Hollywood” Cole had that kind of demeanor. I’m glad I was wrong.

For a long time now the Phillies have dominated the Washington Nationals. They have walked all over them to the tune of a 59-31 record since 2007. Every one of those years the Nationals finished in last place and the Phillies finished in first. The scale has been tipped in the Phils favor for some time now. It has showed with Nationals Park often getting referred to as “Citizen’s Bank Park South” because of the legions of Phillies fans that invade the stadium during each trip South.

Last year the Nats acquired Jayson Werth for an ungodly some of money they probably regretted before the ink dried where he signed. Nevertheless, his signing along with a healthy Steven Strasburg, a sometimes healthy Ryan Zimmerman, and of course the Chosen One Bryce Harper’s arrival have given Nats fans a glimmer of hope for the first time since they arrived from Montreal.

If you haven’t heard of Bryce Harper, and since you’re reading an obscure baseball blog I’d like to think you have but anyway let me fill you in a bit. He was the number 1 overall pick by the Nats in June 2010 and has scorched his way through the minor leagues while making the transition from catcher to the outfield. They say the kid has all the tools, charisma, attitude, and talent to be the next big thing. He made his Major League debut on April 28th this year and is hitting over .300 after a week in the majors. In his first few games ESPN would cut away from whatever they had on to show "live look-ins" at his at bats. Its safe to say ESPN is more than a little aroused by the possibility of a new phenom. Oh yeah, dude was born in ‘92. He is 19 years old and living the dream.

So naturally I sent a text out to my buddies that Kyle Kendrick needed to put one in this kids ribs during his first at bat just to make a statement. What kind of a statement is that you ask? It’s the kind of statement that lets Harper and the upstart Nationals know that this team and in particular this player is on the Phillies radar. They realize the talent and the product on the field, and they want to let this team know that they are going to have to knock them from the top of the mountain.

What happened? The Phils pitched to Harper and lost the first two games of the series to fall 5.5 games back of the first place Nationals.  Cole Hamels took the ball on national television for ESPN’s Sunday Night baseball trying to avoid what would be a manhood sapping sweep at the hands of a new division rival.

What happened? Hamels drilled Harper in the small of the back with a fastball in the first inning. Harper winced a bit and trotted down to first base without so much of a look at Hamels. Harper may have come around to score (after stealing home!) but the message was delivered loud and clear. The Phillies seemed to respond to the beaning as well, scoring 9 runs and avoiding an embarrassing loss. Hamels pitched 8 strong innings and the run Harper scored was the only one he allowed. Hamels was then hit in the shin later in the game as possible retaliation but the umpires issued warnings and the situation never escalated further.

Cole talked about it after the game. "I was trying to hit him. I'm not going to deny it. I'm not trying to injure the guy. They're probably not going to like me for it, but I'm not going to say I wasn't trying to do it. I think they understood the message, and they threw it right back. That's the way, and I respect it."

If you want to talk about respect, Hamels just earned a ton more of it from me. Not only did he have the balls to hit Harper without provocation, but he manned up and gave the people what they wanted to hear when he didn’t say “it slipped” with a wink and a smile. You have to love the candor, I know I do.

Unfortunately, the MLB did not think too much of Hamels honesty and they have slapped him with a 5 game suspension for the intentional hit by pitch. If he does not come out and say that you can almost guarantee he doesn’t get suspended.

The Nationals are certainly not too happy about it, that’s for sure.

Let the rivalry begin.

Werth Watch:  In the very same game Jayson Werth broke his wrist diving to catch a Placido Polanco fly ball. It looked awful right away and you could tell it was bad. I feel bad for Werth. He has had wrist issues in the past but hopefully he can come back healthy. I never like to see players go down like that. He is out a minimum of 12 weeks according to team doctors.