Somebody had to get this runaway Phillies train back on the track, and Hamels was the one. On Tuesday, after losing to the Nationals, Halladay admitted with refreshing candor that he and other Phillies were pressing too hard.
"I think we've got, including myself, a lot of guys that are going out and trying to carry the weight of the team," Halladay said, "and you can't play that way."
Hamels picked it up and carried it Wednesday night. There was additional weight, since Hamels was facing Bryce Harper and the Nationals again for the first time since he was suspended for intentionally drilling the rookie (and admitting to it), the first time since Nats GM Mike Rizzo called him "fake tough," among other unkind things.
"I don't know how to answer that," Hamels said, when asked how he kept those things from preying on him. "It wasn't in my head."
Whatever the burden – the fallout from the beanball incident, the Phillies' losing streak, the anemic run support from their depleted lineup – Hamels carried it.
It is something Halladay has done before and, we have to assume, will do again. It is something Lee has done and will do. But this week, Hamels carried them, too.
"I just go into a game and know that if I just put up zeroes, that's all that matters," Hamels said. "I never really look at win-losses because they didn't really come before. I think I had to mentally train myself. I've fallen into good things happening for me right now. Obviously I wish they were happening for the whole team."
In this era, when fans study salary caps and payroll numbers and can quote contract terms better than batting averages, we tend to dwell a bit too much on a player's status. The moment the Eagles extended DeSean Jackson, many fans started wringing their hands about an extension for LeSean McCoy. When McCoy's deal got done, speculation turned to Jeremy Maclin. Will he be unhappy with his deal?
The games really should be the thing.
That said, this entire season has been and will be played out with Hamels' expiring contract as one of the more urgent subplots. He appears headed for free agency, where he will surely be offered a monster deal by one of the deep pocketed perennial contenders, at the same time the Phillies appear to be teetering on the precipice.
It would be terrible irony if Hamels felt he had a better chance to win elsewhere, because the Phillies' best chance to keep their window open is to keep Hamels. It would be just plain terrible to be pull off stunning deals to acquire Lee and Halladay but not be able to pull off a must-do deal to retain the homegrown ace.
In this, his free-agent season, Hamels is 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA. Clearly, he is not letting that pressure affect him, either.
"I'm just playing the game the best I know how," Hamels said. "I'm not thinking about that sort of big picture, because it's not fair to my teammates or the organization or the fans. I'm here right now and I'm ultimately trying to win for my teammates, for the fans and the organization. That's what I'm going to stick with."
It really is something to see. Hamels always did have the talent. Watching him fume when a call would go against him, or a cheap homer would slip out of the Bank, you wondered if he would ever really put it all together.
He has. And he's even better than you imagined he would be.
Being around Halladay and Lee and, before them, Jamie Moyer, certainly was part of that. Learning to trust his curveball as much as his nasty changeup was part of that. Being a World Series MVP, then struggling, then regaining his form – that was all part of his growth.
He is a finished product now. He's tough, and there's nothing fake about it.
Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, email@example.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan