Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Where I Make Amends With Cole Hamels

If you search "Cole Hamels" on this absurd piece of Internet real estate I created in the summer of 2008 — a mere four months before the Phillies became World Fucking Champions by the way (Coincidence? I think not!) — you'll find a ton of posts mentioning the man. Hell, there's 64 of them tagged with his name alone.

In those archives, you'll find me both praising and bashing Cole Hamels throughout. Truthfully, I've been slow to blindly hand out praise for Hamels, scarred from years and years of can't-miss Phillies pitching prospects that, wouldn't you know it, missed, but quick to give him credit when he pitched well. Seriously, I've run the gamut on the guy, from asking why his teammates hate him and never score runs the way they do for Jamie Moyer despite Cole being about 8 million times better than the old man to declaring he's no ace just yet before what turned out to be an historic playoff run.

I've crowned him king, and told him he won me over (how could he not?) after pitching the Phillies to the title and winning both NLCS and World Series MVP honors. I officially declared him an ace and vowed to never say another bad word about him.

Then 2009 happened, and it was back to the drawing board. As Cole struggled through the worst season of his life and did a complete 180 in the playoffs, I broke my vow, going so far as to say Cole Hamels blows and even ridiculously harshly titling a post Cole Hamels Fucking Sucks after blowing up against the Yankees in the World Series.

It's been quite the love-hate relationship between Cole and me, and by that I mean I've loved him and hated him while he has consistently gone through his life without knowing I even exist. Last season, there was far more good out of Hamels than bad, and the harsh criticisms of him subsided around these parts. But I'm not sure I ever properly acknowledged his maturation and the admiration I've gained by watching him these past few years. You can blame that on Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay stealing away a very large portion of my attention.

Now I think is the perfect time to make my amends with Hamels, fresh off one of his most impressive outings of his entire career. In case you were stuck in a cave, you know Hamels did something he rarely does last night, pitching a complete game in a 4-1 victory over the Nationals — a complete game in which he surrendered just five hits and one run on a solo homer to Mike Morse while striking 6, including Jayson Werth in the 9th. Oh, and he got the offense going with a two-out triple in the third and scoring the game's first run when Jimmy Rollins singled him home. Hamels later added a single to finish 2-for-4 on the night in addition to his tremendous pitching performance. It was quite a night for him.

Anyway, back to making amends. The more I watch Cole Hamels, these past two season especially, learning from the likes of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt, I see the guy we've really been waiting for. The reason I and countless others in Philadelphia have been so hard on Hamels is because we've seen the potential this guy has to be great. He showed it as a rookie and kept getting better. But he never really nailed down this ace thing until that incredible 2008 playoff run. And as wonderful and magical as that was, something neither Cole or any Phillies fan alive would trade for the world, it expedited everyone's expectations.

Coming off that performance, everyone expected Hamels to take Major League Baseball by storm and become a perennial all-star, if not Cy Young candidate. What we forgot was he was still in his professional baseball infancy, forgot that he was coming off his shortest offseason ever, forgot that with success and expectations comes even more pressure. And Hamels didn't meet our expectations or his own in 2009, angering all parties involved. His immaturity really showed, and it looked like he lost all the confidence he had so much of the year before.

But instead of bitching and moaning and pouting about it, no matter what we thought, Hamels used it as fuel to focus even further on his craft. Working alongside Lee and Halladay and Oswalt no doubt has helped, and last year Hamels really started to tap that potential on a whole new level. So far this season, he's taken yet another step. After last night's outstanding outing, Hamels is now 4-1 on the season. He has a 2.66 ERA, good for 10th in he National League. His 40 strikeouts place him 7th in the league, and his 1.01 WHIP has him at 6th in NL. All those numbers are better than teammates Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt. So far this season, Hamels has been the second best pitcher on the National League's best team, trailing on Roy Halladay statistically. He may have pitched like shit in the game I was at, but he's really been coming into his own early on this season. Truthfully, it really started last year.

Hamels tasted the ultimate success in 2008 and hit rock bottom in 2009. Now, at 27 years old and in his 6th Major League season, Cole Hamels is the pitcher we were told he'd become. On his ascent, I was pretty harsh on him, as were so many of us here in Philadelphia. Consider this me making amends for that.

And oh by the way, Jayson Werth showed a ton of class last night in his first at-bat, tipping his cap to the real fans that gave him a standing ovation and a chorus of cheers — (very classy by Cole as well, not even toeing the rubber until Werth got his props from the crowd).

For those of you in attendance who booed, I'll refer you to my friend Chase Utley.

Normally, I'm 100 percent in favor of booing if you want to boo — if a player is playing badly, not showing maximum effort, if a guy says something bad about the team or the players or the fans, if the opposition is particularly hated or does something that is an affront to the city, if the team is lacking energy or effort, etc. But to boo Jayson Werth in his return to Philadelphia after all that guy did for this franchise, well, you're the reason Philadelphia fans get a bad rap. And you're an idiot. And an asshole.

Sure, Werth left Philadelphia for an enormous contract in Washington — an astronomical raise for a guy who had never had a huge contract in his career. Who in their right mind would turn down that kind of money? (And don't say Cliff Lee. Sure, Cliff took fewer dollars to come back to Philadelphia, but he's still making $100 million over 5 years, whereas Werth was making far, far less during his time in Philadelphia than he is now in Washington.) It was his one chance at a big payday, given that he was almost out of baseball before signing with the Phillies and is now in his 30s. So he left instead returning for a hometown discount, and wasn't all that pleased when he found out his expensive friend Cliff Lee was making his return to the Phillies. Fine. I get that.

But Jayson Werth never said anything bad about his teammates or the fans that adored him for four seasons as a Phillie. In fact, he embraced them. Fully. And he played his ass off for us. He turned himself from an injury-proned platoon player into an all-star. He stole two bases off Billy Wagner to ignite this streak of playoff appearances. He was an integral part of the World Fucking Champions. He busted his ass every day, truly bringing damn near everything to the table: speed, defense, a rocket arm, power, protection. Jayson Werth did a whole hell of a lot for the Phillies, and without him, this franchise isn't in the position it's in right now as one of the elite in baseball.

Those of you who don't realize that and can't appreciate that enough to just not fucking boo for one at-bat, well, you are retarded. And I mean that in the most negative way possible. Boo him his second time up, boo him when he takes the field, boo him for the rest of his career if it makes you happy. I wouldn't harbor any ill will toward you for that. But to boo him at that moment was classless. And stupid. And you're the reason Philadelphia fans have the reputation they do. You're also probably the ones who complain about that reputation the loudest. Congrats for that.

Sometimes you get the recognition you deserve. Sunday night was Philadelphia at its finest. Last night, those who booed Werth during his first at-bat only gave the haters more fuel for the fire.

P.S. Jimmy loves him some leadoff. Rollins looked a whole hell of a lot more like his old MVP-ish self last night at the top of the order, going 2-for-4 with a run, an RBI, a triple and a steal. Probably best to leave him there even though he's the most frustrating leadoff hitter in the history of ever, because when Jimmy hits, the Phillies win. Simple as that.

P.P.S. Zoo With Roy's Sag-O-Meter worked perfectly, as Raul broke out of his 0-for-80 billion slump with a rocket ground rule double to center. Way to go, Raul. ZWR is a genius!

No comments:

Post a Comment