Rich Hofmann: Dread end

Posted: July 06, 2012

NEW YORK — Cole Hamels does all the right things on the mound and says all the right things in the postgame interviews. He gets asked about his impending free agency after pretty much every start now, in some way or another, and he parries the questions with some variation on the notion that he is only worrying now about his next start.

Thursday night, his answer to a couple of attempts to talk about the contract, and the future, were met by this: "I don't have a comment for that."

But after another gruesome ending, you cannot help but wonder. After another addition to the kaleidoscope of carnage that has been the Phillies' 2012 season — in this one, closer Jonathan Papelbon blew the save and then the game in the ninth inning for a 6-5 loss to the Mets — it is hard not to think that, at some point, this whole wretched business is going to make Hamels less likely to want to stay with the Phillies for 2013 and beyond.

So far, there is no such indication. Before the game, Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said, "It's a good idea to know where things are going to go with him. As I've said before, I've had no indication that he doesn't want to be here. I don't know whether we're going to sign him or not. I hope to."

After the game, Hamels was as positive as ever.

"You just have to keep plugging away," he said. "It's a long season. Shoot, I think Oakland won 20-something games in a row. Put that together and you are right back in there. I think that's hoping for the best, but it's always possible."

They are all the right words, and sentiments. But it cannot be getting easier for Hamels to say them. The standings already tell a grim story for the Phillies. Everybody knows that. The pressure is starting to build and the need to begin stringing wins together is plain. Everybody knows that, too.

It all magnifies what was lost Thursday night at Citi Field — not just a lead in the ninth inning, and another game, and a tough, workmanlike performance by Hamels. When Papelbon blew the save — the tying run scoring when a line drive caromed off his leg and over to the first-base line, where Papelbon promptly fell down in his attempt to salvage things; the winning run scoring when the Mets' David Wright flared a ball in front of the lunging Hunter Pence in rightfield — the thing that was lost most of all was opportunity.

That, and another day on the calendar. As Amaro was saying before the game, "Time ain't gonna stop for us."

The horror of how the thing unraveled for Papelbon in the ninth inning will be the enduring memory of this one. Forgotten will be the effort that Hamels gave them. With his pitch count rising, with the score see-sawing, he needed to hang in and find a way to go seven innings on a night that was not his best.

It was just work.

It should have been winning work.

It is the thing for which Hamels is most underappreciated: that he is a workman. We hear about his talent a lot, and nobody really debates that. We hear about his temperament, which seems to be based mostly upon stuff he says in interviews and not the way he is on the mound.

But this was a night about work, when Hamels just needed to endure. He struck out seven and walked only one, and that was good. He gave up two home runs on the night and labored through a 39-pitch third inning, and that wasn't good. Taken together, it was just one of those nights. It was just one of those games where the ability to stick it out and summon up the stuff to prosper past the 100th pitch was likely going to set the odds for team success thereafter.

And Hamels did it, with neither fuss nor fanfare. He threw 119 pitches and it was just work. For the fourth straight time, and the 11th time in 17 starts, he got through seven innings.

It should have been enough.

Should have …

No one can predict his future with certainty. That the Phillies need to re-sign Hamels has been said often enough that it does not need to be said anymore. It is that obvious. Another dreadful ending does not alter that reality.

But will he want them?

As horror show piles upon horror show, it is fair to wonder. n

Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @theidlerich. Read his blog at www.philly.com/TheIdleRich.

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