On Sunday night, Phillies ace Cole Hamels made a statement on the mound in Washington, D.C., and it had nothing to do with his dominating win over the Nationals, and had everything to do with what happened in the bottom of the first inning, when he buried a fastball in Bryce Harper’s lower back.
Ordinarily, such an occurrence would go under the radar and be forgotten about within an inning or two, but not this time, because Hamels did not mince words about that errant fastball, and was very candid in his post-game comments, which are likely to cause quite a stink in our Nation’s Capitol.
"I was trying to hit him," Hamels said. "I mean, I'm not going to deny it. It's something that I grew up watching. I'm just trying to continue old baseball, because I think some people get away from it. I remember when I was a rookie, the strike zone was really, really small and you didn't say anything, because that's the way baseball is. But I think unfortunately sometimes the league is protecting certain players and making it not as that kind of old school, prestigious way of baseball."
Harper, for all his talent, is a polarizing figure. He’s brash, arrogant and has a wild hair cut. He wears eye-black like war paint. He’s three parts hustle, three parts pure skill and all attitude. He’s the anti-Jeter, a ball of talent who wears it on his sleeve and doesn’t care about offending the sensibilities of the beat writers. But man, that cat can ball. And everyone knows it.
So, it’s understandable for Hamels to think that he could be taken down a peg with a well placed fastball to the lower back. Part of me appreciates that, especially in this hyper-sensitive era that we are living in, when everything is placed under a microscope -- examined, re-examined and examined again. I dig the “welcome to the big leagues, rook” moment, for sure, and the fact that he came out and admitted what he did was even more impressive, especially considering it would have been so much easier to lie.
And it's not like Hamels didn't get his when Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann plunked Hamels in the third inning.
However, there is a larger, much more practical part of me that thinks what Hamels did was stupid, ill-thought out, and ultimately, too costly to justify.
I’ll not speak to the “he could have injured him!!!” narrative, because, well, Harper was no worse for wear -- he stole home a couple plays later -- and it seems like everyone is riding that bus the morning after. Instead, my issue is that there was no need to hit Harper, because really, what’s the point? I know that Hamels claims to long for old-school style baseball, where pitchers owned the inside corner and HBPs were just an occupational hazard, but in the old school, they smoked during the games and caroused until the wee hours with regularity.
And I get it, I guess, that Hamels wants to send a message to Harper that this is how they do things in the big leagues, but ultimately, it ended up costing them. After moving to third following a single from Jayson Werth, Harper stole home when Hamels tried to pick Werth off at first. As much as Hamels wanted to stick it to Harper, Harper ended up sticking it right back at him, and it put the Phillies in a 1-0 deficit. If Hamels really wanted to welcome Harper to The Show, he would have struck him out instead of grooving a fastball between his numbers. Luckily, it didn’t cost them the win, but it could very well cost them something more.
In his eagerness to admit his transgression, Hamels also possibly failed again. He set himself up for a possible suspension that could cost him at least one start, because Major League Baseball does not look kindly upon pitchers intentionally throwing at hitters. Maybe Cole expected that, but with the Phillies struggling to win games right now, they can ill-afford to lose their best pitcher -- even for one game -- for something as silly as this.
If the Phillies were in first place, or if they weren’t struggling as much as they were, then maybe I’d be inclined to feel differently, because missing him for one game when they have a four-game lead doesn’t sting as much as it does when they are at the bottom of the division.
And sure, this is all great for the burgeoning rivalry between the Phillies and Nationals -- which we can all admit is a good thing -- but there are better ways to go about stoking the fire of competition with your division rival.