Quintessential Cole Hamels
Rather than take their chances this winter, they kept Cole Hamels off the free agent market by awarding the 28-year-old a six-year, $144 million contract extension. It is the richest contract in team history and the second highest among pitchers in the history of the sport.
In his first home start since penning his new deal, Hamels delivered his best start of the season Tuesday night against the Atlanta Braves. He fired a five-hit shutout to lead the Phils to a 3-0 win, a victory that gave beleaguered fans hope for 2013.
Afterward, Hamels was actually asked if he thought it was the best start of his career. While there certainly are no dumb questions - what if Hamels actually said yes?? - it did make me chuckle a bit, when you consider all that Hamels has achieved in seven big league seasons.
Tuesday night's performance was certainly stellar. But it was neither the best or most memorable start of his career.
Of course, "best" and "memorable" are highly subjective; some people are wowed by strikeouts, others by complete games or shutouts, others by performing at peak performance when your team needs a win the most.
With that said, here is the opinion of one man (me). It's the Top Seven Quintessential Cole Hamels Starts (in no particular order):
1. May 12, 2006 at Cincinnati: If you look at his pitching line, you probably won't be impressed. Hamels walked five of the 21 batters he faced. But in what was his major league debut, the 22-year-old Hamels didn't allow a hit until he had two outs in the fifth inning and he also struck out seven in five shutout innings. Beginning with that game, Great American Ball Park has become Hamels' home away from home: he's 4-0 with a 1.29 ERA in six career starts in Cincy.
2. Sept. 1, 2009 vs. San Francisco: The '09 season is viewed largely as a disappointing one for Hamels and his career-high ERA (4.32) and WHIP (1.286) don't do much to debunk that line of thinking. Neither did his substandard performance in the postseason. But there were at least a few gems that summer, too. Hamels was brilliant on the first day of September against the Giants, allowing two hits and a walk in a shutout win. He faced two batters over the minimum as the Phils won the first in a September that saw them take 17 of 30 games en route to their third straight NL East title.
3. April 21, 2007 at Cincinnati: Hamels doesn't have a career save among his 203 major league games, but this may have been the game that saved Charlie Manuel. Dubbed as the "team to beat" by Jimmy Rollins, the Phils began the '07 campaign at an uneasy 4-11 clip out of the gate. Manuel called a team meeting. Hamels was spectacular. Armed with a 2-0 lead before he took the mound, Hamels struck out all three batters he faced in the bottom half of the first inning en route to a career-high 15 strikeouts in a complete game win.
4. Sept. 20, 2010 vs. Atlanta: It's easy to forget a game like this, only because it doesn't stand out because of strikeouts or no-hit stuff. Instead, it may have been the biggest game in helping the Phils win their fourth straight division title. With the second-place Braves arriving in town, the Phils aligned their rotation so Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Roy Halladay would take the mound on consecutive nights. Hamels went first and held the Braves to one run in eight innings in the first win of a three-game sweep that began with the Phils up three games on the Braves and ended with them up by six in the NL East.
5. Oct. 27, 2008 vs. Tampa Bay: This game began with Citizens Bank Park primed to explode with 25 years of pent-up frustration from Philadelphia sports fans, continued with a two-day rainstorm that delayed that jubilation and eventually ended with Hamels holding two trophies and posing next to a shiny new Camaro. People that still question Hamels' toughness only have to remember the day he pitched through a monsoon to lead the Phils to arguably the biggest win in franchise history.
6. Oct. 1, 2008 vs. Milwaukee: It's difficult to pick one October 2008 start over another - the NL pennant-clincher in Los Angeles two weeks later was as impressive in its own way, in watching Hamels bear down when the Dodgers rallied - but on the first day of the month and the first game of the memorable postseason run for the Phils, Hamels set the tone. He was the embodiment of an ace. Hamels retired the first 14 batters he faced and handed a two-hit shutout to Brad Lidge in the ninth inning of an eventual 3-1 win.
7. Oct. 10, 2010 at Cincinnati: The 2010 season was filled with some of the best pitching performances in recent memory. If it wasn't for a blown call, there would have been three perfect games that summer. Roy Halladay pitched one of those perfect games and also threw the second postseason no-hitter in baseball history in 2010. But Hamels' first postseason game since a lackluster 2009 playoff performance was as impressive as either of the aforementioned Halladay starts. Hamels struck out nine en route to a five-hit shutout in the NLDS clincher, sending the Phils to their third straight National League Championship Series. The game ended with Hamels striking out former Phillie Scott Rolen on three pitches.