We all know that good pitching stops good hitting most of the time, and that games start to get tighter and more tense as pennant races begin to heat up in mid-August and on into September. But three teams battling in a pennant race (well, at least two really are) all playing a 1-0 game on the same night?
Here in Philly we all witnessed the Fightin’s latest frustrations at the hands of a knuckleballer. This time it was Mets righty R.A. Dickey tossing a 1-hitter, of all things. And the one hit was a simple flare that dropped in off the bat of pitcher Cole Hamels. Meanwhile the Braves and Mets were both winning 1-0 games on the same night, the Atlanta win opening up a 3-game lead for them in the division race.
The Phils are playing a bit shorthanded still with both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley out of the lineup. But no hits from anyone in the lineup against a guy who throws most of his pitches at maybe 75mph? You can’t smartly adjust your approach for one game in a known situation like that, especially when it’s already happened to you multiple times in 2010?
A couple of months ago my wife and I had the misfortune of watching the Phils get similarly shut down by the Red Sox extremely hittable veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in person at Citizens Bank Park. I remember clearly turning to her around the 3rd inning after she said “They better start hitting soon” and telling her something to the effect of “They’ll have 7-8 runs at least before this game is over.” The joke was on me.
Last night, the joke was on Hamels – again. He has been simply masterful for the better part of this season, and yet sits here in mid-August with a 7-9 record. The frustration began on April 18th when Hamels allowed just 7 hits and no walks while striking out 8 over 8 strong innings vs. the Marlins, only to take a loss. An 8-inning no decision on May 4th vs. the Cardinals, an 8-inning 3-hitter vs. the Padres on June 7th, 7-inning 5-hitters vs. the Twins on June 19th and Pirates on July 1st.
Perhaps the worst for Hamels was an 8-inning 1-hitter vs. Saint Louis on July 22nd. So far in August, Hamels has now made three starts. He has allowed just 17 hits and 2 walks across 22 strong innings while striking out 29 batters. For all that excellent work, his win-loss record in those games is now 0-2.
By any reasonable and fair measure, Hamels could very easily have a record somewhere in the 18-4 neighborhood, which would clearly leave him as a leading Cy Young candidate. His season line includes a 3.33 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, a 157-48 K-BB ratio, and fewer hits than innings pitched. He has been dominant. That he is not contending for his first Cy Young is the fault of the Phillies hitters.
To the absolute credit of the 26-year old lefty, Hamels has grown up. He has not allowed the continual frustrations of the offense to affect him. In the past, any signs of negativity clearly got to the emotional Hamels. He would roll his eyes, stalk around the mound, slam down the resin bag, look Heavenward for answers. This year, no matter the circumstances, he has simply taken the ball and fired.
The maturation of Cole Hamels is something that should benefit the Phillies in September, as should the support of talented veterans Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt joining him this year at the top of the rotation. The return of Howard and Utley will hopefully help the offense begin to get him the results that his pitching has deserved. For today, however, it’s another frustrating morning for the talented young lefty and his 2-time defending pennant winning ballclub.