Rich Hofmann: For Phillies' Hamels, it was a day of expectations

Cole Hamels has confidential discussion with catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Cole Hamels has confidential discussion with catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Posted: October 09, 2009

WHEN Grantland Rice was writing this stuff - before baseball had the need to keep day-night stats for pitchers because, you know, there were no nights - it would have been so much simpler. Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, Cole Hamels would have pitched a shutout, gotten a call in the clubhouse that his wife had gone into labor, and rushed to the hospital to await the birth of his first child. They could have made it into a movie. Alas.

Last year was that kind of fairy tale for Hamels. This year, not so much.

On a human level, everyone hopes for the best as Hamels and his wife Heidi await the birth of their son. On a baseball level, the emotions are more complicated. Because Hamels failed for the first time yesterday in a big October spot. After an inconsistent regular season, there was still hope that Hamels would recognize the moment again, that he would be himself again, that he would remember what it felt like to be the most valuable player of the 2008 postseason.

He held the ball in his hand with a chance, pretty much, to put a lock on the Phillies' first-round playoff series against the Colorado Rockies. Instead, he gave up four runs in five innings, again pitching badly in the daylight. He was removed from the game and, minutes later, rushed from the ballpark after receiving word that his wife was in labor.

The public performance will now become entwined with the personal, which no one deserves. But Hamels is a public man with a public wife with a particular personality - and now, for as long as people ask questions, people will wonder how all of these conflicting emotions affected Hamels - and, by extension, the Phillies - on this most important of days.

"That could have had something to do with it, I don't know," manager Charlie Manuel said, about the whole emotional whirl. "I think definitely he was concerned about his wife. I know he was concerned about his wife, and probably his child, too. That's an exciting time, and that's a time that you really look forward to. I know it probably would have been on his mind, but at the same time you'll have to ask him exactly. I don't know exactly what was on his mind and what he was thinking."

Going into the game, we know that one thing Hamels was thinking about was pitching in the daytime, and how he thought the Phillies were insulted by having two day games to start the playoffs - and how, by the by, his own record this year in the sunshine was 0-6 with a 5.44 ERA. Now it's 0-7 with a 5.60 ERA.

For the fans of irony in the audience, how's this: What if Major League Baseball and the TBS network had acceded to Hamels' wishes and scheduled the Phillies and Rockies for a night game? What then? Hamels would have been forced to make the kind of decision that no one should be forced to make: Pitch a playoff game or be with your wife. Which?

It is a decision that tortured another athlete in this town, Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, who famously missed nearly a week of practice in 1996 to attend the birth of his child in Las Vegas and forgot to take his playbook before a playoff game against the Cowboys. It was quite hilarious when Cunningham was forced to play after starter Rodney Peete got hurt, pretty much ad-libbing his way to infamy.

At least Hamels was spared that kind of decision. It is the only break he got. The first run he allowed was manufactured nicely the Rockies, ending on weak ground ball between the mound and the first-base line that Hamels fielded and threw home, too late, to get Carlos Gonzalez. The next two were on Hamels' only big mistake, a bomb he gave up to catcher Yorvit Torrealba.

"First of all, I didn't think Hamels pitched too bad," Manuel said. "I think in the first inning it got - they took advantage of a break . . . But then the two-run homer Torrealba hit, it looked like a high changeup or a high breaking ball, it was a mistake, and then he gave up a run in the fifth inning, gave up another run.

"I felt like his stuff was good . . . He threw some close pitches, he was around the plate, but I felt like his command could have been better."

And that is the point: He just hasn't had it like last year for most of this season. There have been flashes, but no sustained brilliance. There have been moments, only moments - enough to tease, nothing more. The Phillies have waited for a great, long run of Hamels being Hamels again, but it just hasn't happened - and now they are in a fight for their postseason lives because of it.

"Can he get back to where he was at? Yeah," Manuel said. "I think it's hard to tell when he's going to throw a real good game. I assessed him today and he didn't throw that bad. But when we took him out, we were four runs down, and we were trying to catch up, of course. Yeah, he can get back to that."

You wonder if he will get another chance this October. Such are the professional complications for Cole Hamels and the Phillies on a day of personal joy.

Send e-mail to

hofmanr@phillynews.com,

or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

http://go.philly.com/theidlerich.

For recent columns go to

http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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