Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cole Hamels No Hits the Cubs

A bearded Cole Hamels no-hit the Chicago Cubs on Saturday July 25th in Chicago.

I got a text from my father that Cole had his no-no going with 9 strikeouts through six innings Saturday. Luckily, I was in a spot where I was able to turn on Comcast SportsNet for the start of the bottom of the 7th and watched Hamels annihilate the Cubs 3, 4, and 5 hitters with three straight strikeouts on 13 pitches.

He struck out cleanup hitter Jorge Soler for the third time on the day and Soler broke his bat over his knee (on his 2nd attempt – first one had to hurt) in frustration. Matt Stairs quipped from the booth “best contact he’s made all day” and I had a chuckle.

Hamels is the only legitimate major league player (bullpen excluded) on the Phillies in 2015 and has been the subject of constant trade rumors for essentially two years straight. He came into the game giving up 13 runs in his last two starts that only spanned 6.2 innings. Regardless of his past success, those two starts could not have had the buyer's in the market too keen on the southpaw.

Hamels may be able to put on a front and say the incessant trade talk does not affect his game but it’s hard to believe that he's been able to focus on his starts the same way he always has throughout his brilliant 10 year career in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, Hamels has been solid this season the prior two starts not withstanding.

So with the trade deadline bearing down on Ruben Amaro and the Phillies, Cole Hamels really needed to have a vintage performance to put any doubts potential suitors have about his game to rest. In perhaps the biggest start Hamels has had since late 2012 (the Phils were in the Wild Card chase a bit in September that year), he delivered what is almost certainly the best regular season performance of his career.

Hamels struck out 13 and walked two on his way to the first no-hitter of his career.* I did not catch the first 6 innings of the game, but watching innings 7 through 9 reminded me why I’m a fan of baseball again, and it had been a while.

I haven’t had that giddy knots in my stomach feeling watching the Phillies since Ryan Howard tore his Achilles what feels like a century ago (It was 4 years).

The 8th inning was tense, wow. After getting ahead of catcher David Ross with 1 out, Hamels left a ball up and Ross crushed one deep into the left center field gap. Odubel Herrera was on his horse coming over from right center making an arc on the warning track and circling under the deep fly ball. Odoobs fell to the ground as he made a running catch to preserve the no-hitter. He got up and slapped his glove in excitement and we all could exhale. The next batter, pinch-hitter Kyle Schwarber, sent a hot shot grounder back up the box that certainly had a chance to make it through the infield but Hamels stuck out his glove and snared it. He was heading to the 9th inning with a zero still hanging in the hits column for the Cubs on the south side of Chicago.

The broadcast did not go to commercial after the Phillies' half of the 9th inning – not sure I’ve ever seen that before - and Tom McCarthy started waxing poetic. The coolest stat he got to reel off was that the Cubs had the longest non no-hit streak in the Majors at over 7000 games. The Cubs hadn’t been no-hit in 50 years and the last man to do it was Sandy Koufax. Whenever you’re doing something that was last done by Sandy Koufax you know you’re in the rarest of air there is.

The first two outs of the 9th were uneventful, a grounder to third base and Hamels 13th strike out of the game. The last out had to test some mettle of course. Hamels got ahead of dangerous rookie Kris Bryant but the third baseman was able to work the count full. On the 3-2 pitch he sent a deep drive to dead centerfield and Odoobs was making sure this ball would not get over his head. In fact, he over ran it and the ball was coming down at the base of the warning track. Odoobs had gone too far! But at the last second he was able to leap forward and make a shoestring catch to complete the no hitter for the second greatest left handed pitcher in the Phillies' century plus history.

Odoobs made this game ending catch a bit harder than it needed to be.

What a moment!

The Phils are abysmal and even their recent play (7 out of 8 wins since the All-Star Break) has not been enough to make you think they’ll win 63 games.

But if this was Cole Hamels last start as a Phillie it really is a fitting way for him to end his career here. Cole Hamels has been nothing short of fantastic when he’s donned the red pinstripes for our Philadelphia Phillies. He’s come up big in the biggest moments and put a smile on our faces every 5th day for a decade straight. Here’s to hoping this performance was his one last gift to Philadelphia. It helped us enjoy baseball again, if only for a quick afternoon, and should help bolster any package of prospects the Phillies are seeking in return for their ace’s services.

*Hamels pitched 6 innings in a combined no-hitter last Labor Day against the Dodgers.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Phillies Phatigue

Did somebody say Red Sox?

I watched maybe 15 pitches of the All-Star Game when it was 5-2 AL in the 8th. I saw the Dozier fellow homer for the Twins, is he on the Twins? Can’t even remember, doesn’t matter. I didn’t see one pitch let alone a long ball in the Home Run Derby. I’m suffering from a serious case of baseball apathy.

When the hometown Phils are 29-62 at the break, their most losses ever at the break, it’s hard to give a shit about baseball. I’ve written a mid-season report every year four years running on the Fightins, literally every year has been more depressing than the next. Let's pour one out for the 2015 Phillies and pray this is rock bottom. I couldn’t bring myself to look up the numbers this year. Let my readers know that starters have X wins or their ERA is 6.XX since the 6 game winning streak in May. Might as well be 6.66.

It would be one thing if the Phils didn’t seemingly botch every major personnel and contract decision since the fateful day of the 5 year $125 million contract doled out to Ryan Howard in 2010, but that’s where the apathy part really comes in for me. They are fielding a team that can’t hit, can’t pitch, and certainly can’t compete but everybody aside from the guy who quit still has their job. What reason is ownership giving Phillies fans to come out to the ballpark or change the channel on their TV to TMac and Ben Davis?

The reasons are few and far between. Maikel Franco has fizzled a bit after winning Rookie of the Month honors for a torrid June. Ken Giles is good but he’s just a setup man on a team that doesn’t win; he’s also proven to be a bit of a head case as evidenced by his blow up with pitching coach Bob McClure that aided in Ryne Sandberg’s departure. Don’t worry, I’m sure having Jonathan Papelbon mentor him on the ways of the bullpen world has been just the thing he needs..

My frustrations really still like with Ruben Amaro Jr. and the fact that he’s still employed by the Phillies. He’s the face of the steep, rapid decline and regardless of anything he pulls off at the trade deadline he has to be shown the door during the offseason or whatever fans are left will revolt. He’s done next to nothing positive for the team since he took over and with two weeks left to make non-waiver deals it feels like he’s losing his leverage on making something happen for the long term betterment of the ballclub. Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, and Ryan Howard (if possible) need to see their way off this roster before August. While it isn’t necessarily Rube’s fault that Howard and Chase Utley became shells of the superstars they were seemingly overnight, it is his fault that he gave them such player friendly contracts. Howard’s essentially dead $100 million and Utley’s never ending vesting options have  helped sour the fan base against the best 2nd and 1st baseman in team history.

For a 10 year old fan, Howard and Utley have never been anything but has-beens and that’s just sad for me and anybody who cares about this team. Ruben has been so goddamn gun shy on making these trades it’s astounding. For the 3rd summer in a row the Phillies should clearly be sellers at the trade deadline and during the past two they have stood pat and finished in next to last and last place. It’s been past time to cut the cord on this era but Ruben is doing his best Rose from Titanic and never letting go.

It’s (been) time to let go Rube.