You've heard the rationales for trading Lee, but one that is often obscured involves Hamels. Hamels is still only 26, still lefthanded, and it was reasonable to believe he could be the 1A ace this season that fans so often point out Lee would have been. Hamels is signed through next season at a $9.5 million salary for 2011, and if Lee had outperformed him as a Phillie this year, it is not difficult to imagine the context of a civic debate in October.
Trade Hamels, keep Lee.
Flavor of the day, and all that.
That debate was seeded last winter, of course. One year after he was lauded for his mental toughness as the MVP of both the National League Championship Series and the World Series (remember him in the rain, Game 5?), Hamels was viewed by many as precisely the opposite.
"If you remember, he used to get into innings last year where he had a hard time getting out of," manager Charlie Manuel said after Hamels' masterpiece yesterday.
Boy, do we ever.
Truthfully, it didn't look much different in April when Hamels surrendered seven home runs in his first four starts and pitched into the seventh inning just once. Since, though, he's been pretty good even when the Phillies have not been. And yesterday, against the best-hitting team in the National League, he was great.
Hamels left in the eighth inning after Joey Votto's two-out double, striding off to an ovation from the 44,913 that he saluted. He struck out three of the first five batters he faced, then not another all game. He pitched to contact. He used four pitches. He kept the ball low.
He kept the pitch count low, too.
He escaped a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth, created by two borderline calls on 3-2 pitches and a dropped foul pop by Ryan Howard. Those are precisely the types of occurrences that unraveled him in 2009, and even when they didn't, he'd roll up his pitch count so high that Charlie would have to come and get him in the fifth inning.
This time, Hamels snared a low line drive off the bat of Jay Bruce, then spun to double off Scott Rolen at second. An inning later, after Drew Stubbs beat out a grounder to shortstop, a soft, low liner to Howard doubled him up as well.
"It's not going to be easy, inning after inning," Hamels said. "There are times it's going to be tough. And you have to just bear down, stay low. You don't get hurt as much when you're able to get ground balls. And I wasn't able to get those ground balls a lot last year. This year when I've been needing to get one, I've got one."
Hamels has now pitched seven innings or more in six of his last seven starts and has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 12 of his last 13 starts. His record stands at only 7-7, but like Halladay, he has deserved better. Twice in the last 7 weeks, he has allowed two runs and lost; another two times he allowed three runs and lost.
Like Halladay, he is getting ahead of guys, getting strikes with his cutter and curve as well as his changeup and fastball.
"Four pitches rather than 2 1/2," he said. "Knowing that I can throw any one pitch to any guy. Having that confidence . . .
"It's fun to watch Roy," he said. "And being able to pitch right behind him? It opens up better possibilities . . . Striking people out is great, but it takes a lot of pitches from your pitch count. And it's hard to go deep into ballgames when all of a sudden I'm at 115 pitches in the sixth, seventh inning. I want to go nine. I want to finish what I start. But in order to do that, and what I've been witnessing, you have to get those doubleplays and quick outs."
For much of this first half, the Lee deal has hovered over the Phillies like an albatross. The last 2 days have at least suggested that it doesn't have to doom them. Would it be better to have all three? No doubt. But if Hamels' momentum continues into the second half, and Halladay is Halladay . . . Well, it's still a helluva one-two punch.
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