The 2004 Phillies, the last team managed by Larry Bowa, were out of the race with a week to go. In that same season, 20-year-old prized prospect Cole Hamels dazzled the organization in spring training, striking out Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Tony Clark, but was limited to four games with the Clearwater Threshers with elbow soreness.
Hamels made his major league debut 2 years later and the Phillies had been relevant in the playoff race in each of his first six seasons. Despite being on the outside looking in during his seventh year, Hamels sure hasn't looked like someone who has lost interest or intensity.
Hamels retired the first 10 batters he faced on Sunday and Carlos Ruiz banged out three hits as the Phillies took a 4-1 win over the Miami Marlins.
Hamels limited the Fish to one run on five hits in seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight, setting a new personal best for strikeouts in a season.
Hamels, 91-60 in his career, finished with 216 strikeouts in 215 1/3 innings. He was 17-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 31 starts, averaging seven innings in those starts.
But after finishing his own season, the next three games the Phillies play in Washington likely will be the last baseball Hamels watches until he reports to Camp Clearwater this winter.
"Probably if I'm bored," Hamels said of watching a postseason he won't participate in for the first time since his rookie season. "I think when you don't make it, you have a sense of bitterness. You really don't want to follow it as closely."
When the Phillies made their unexpected run at a wild-card berth in September, when they reeled off a 17-10 record, Hamels was at the forefront of their surge. But in a season where almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong - Ryan Howard breaking a toe by dropping a lead pipe on his foot Thursday, for example - Hamels was the model of consistency.
He finished the season similar to how he started it. In the last 2 months, Hamels went 6-1 with a 2.58 ERA, never allowing more than three earned runs in a game. In his first nine starts of 2012, Hamels went 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA, also never allowing more than three earned runs in a start.
In between, Hamels signed a 6-year, $144 million contract extension - the richest in Phillies history - to stick with a team he believes will resume making regular appearances in the playoffs again in 2013.
"I'm happy with the direction I'm going; that's kind of the selfish way you look at it," Hamels said. "But I'm happy I'm going to be on this team. I like all of the possibilities that we have. Knowing guys are going to be healthy next year, knowing I'm going to be here for a long time and that I can focus on what I want to do on the mound."
If you're upset with the way the Phillies' season is ending, imagine how much worse it could have been if Hamels was hitting the free-agent market next month.
"I like it the way it is," manager Charlie Manuel said.
With many of his core teammates aging (Roy Halladay) or becoming injury-plagued (Howard, Utley), Hamels represents the most hope going forward. In the last three seasons, Hamels has gone 43-26 with a 2.97 ERA. Take away his mulligan of a 2009 season and Hamels is 72-41 with a 3.07 ERA since his first, full major league season in 2007.
"I like being consistent," said Hamels, who finished in the top five in the NL in wins, strikeouts and innings and eighth in ERA. "At the same time, the numbers, they can be better. And I'd rather be consistent on a better basis more than anything. There's always improvement. When you improve, then you want to stick to numbers in that category, in the top echelon of guys."
Hamels has plenty of time to do that and win his first Cy Young Award, too. He doesn't turn 29 until December.
"I realize there could be quite a bit more," Manuel said. "That's what got him a good [contract]. That's what got him the future he has with us."
It's a future that makes dealing with the present a little more pleasant for Manuel, and for Phillies fans, too.
Contact Ryan Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org.