Cole Hamels said he wasn't sending a message to the Washington Nationals when he hit Bryce Harper in the first inning of Sunday's 9-3 win.
But he was at the very least sending a message to Harper, an exuberant, uber-talented rookie who may have as much moxie as Barry Bonds. On the first pitch he ever threw to the 19-year-old rookie, Hamels used a 93-mile-per-hour fastball to fire into the middle of Harper's back.
Here is what Hamels said afterward:
Q: Were you sending a message to the Nationals?
Hamels: No, no, no. They're a great team. They're really going to be quite a challenging team down the stretch and obviously in the next couple years. They've got a lot of good draft picks that are finally able to turn out and be good players. It's just going out there and just playing. It's just part of the game, and really trying to do everything I can to pitch and win a ball game for our team.
Q: Trying to get some swagger back?
Hamels: No, no, if I was getting back for our side I think I'd have to drill quite a few people because you're in their home ballpark. It's just welcome to the big leagues. And I think he kind of did that for me. It's impressive. He's got a lot of talent. He's going to be a really good ballplayer. He's got a lot of energy. To be able to steal home and stretch a single into a double on one of the hits, if he keeps continuing to do that he's really going to make a really good name for himself.
Q: Losing focus on throws to first?
Hamels: Most of the time I throw over when I'm given the sign. Somebody gave me a sign and I'm throwing over. I can't see where he is in his positioning down the line, so I think it's just kind of miscommunication by all of us.
Q: I guess you expected to get hit by Zimmermann?
Hamels: Oh, yeah. That's baseball. I'm kind of happy that's the way it works because that's the way it should. I don't think the umpires should interfere with it. Let baseball be baseball. I grew up playing the game hard and watching it. That's the way it was. I'd hate for them to change it, which has kind of happened in recent years. Just let it play out and then we get back to playing. That's just the way it is, and I'm not going to argue with it.
Q: Is this the best rivalry you guys have had since Mets early in your career?
Hamels: Yeah I think it could be a really good rivalry. We're so close. Our fans can drive down, their fans can drive up. Their team is starting to peak into a really good competitive team. The Mets have gone the other direction and the Nationals have come up. It's going to be really exciting to see -- we have 15 more games against them and it's going to be a really good series.
Q: Good to have a rival?
Hamels: Yeah of course. That's what makes it exciting in baseball. That's what you want. To see your fans really get involved and see the teams -- you can feel the energy and you want to play harder. That's what it takes to get more people to want to watch our series when we're playing against each other. It's a long year and when you have a series to look forward to it makes things go a little bit quicker and the excitement really takes you to another level.
Q: So... what were you trying to do in the Harper at-bat then?
Hamels: No. I was trying to hit him. I'm not going to deny it. That's just -- you know what, it's something that I grew up watching, that's what happened, so I'm just trying to continue the old baseball -- I think some people kind of get away from it. I remember when I was a rookie the strike zone was really really small and you didn't say anything just because that's the way baseball is. Sometimes the league is protecting certain players and making it not that old-school, prestigious way of baseball.
Q: When did you decide you would hit him?
Hamels: I'm not going to tell you that one. Sorry.
Q: Does that get juices flowing?
Hamels: Yeah, I'm not going to injure a guy. They're probably not going to like me for it but I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't trying to do it. I think they understood the message and they threw it right back. That's the way, and I respect it. They can say whatever they want.
Q: Need to get that win?
Hamels: I guess to kind of salvage. They got us in the extra-inning game and obviously hit us pretty hard yesterday. It's nice to be able to get a win in the way we did. But we have a lot of baseball, and that's what it's really going to come down to. They're the team on top right now and we've got to catch up.
And, what Bryce Harper said:
Q: Thoughts on Cole Hamels?
Harper: Props to him. He came out there and really threw the ball well and there was nothing we could do about it.
Q: Consider it revenge when you stole home?
Harper: Um, you know, we were just looking at his pick move before the game and just trying to read some things. We saw something and took advantage of that and got a run early and he threw a great game tonight. We can't take anything away from him. He threw very, very well and he's an all-star. Eight innings. He really threw the ball well.
Q: He told Philly media he hit you on purpose.
Harper: [Laughs] Not at all. He's a great pitcher.
Q: Do you know why he would do that?
Harper: No clue. He's a great guy, great pitcher and knows how to pitch. He's an All-Star. It's all good.