Saturday afternoon, I was sitting in my parents’ living room, working a sports editing shift, relaxing with my injured dog on her birthday and watching the Philadelphia Phillies take on the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field with my dad.
It was mandatory viewing despite Philadelphia’s league-worst record because there was a very strong possibility that it could be Cole Hamels’ last start as a Philadelphia Phillie. Considering he was at the forefront of Philadelphia’s 2008 World Series championship run, taking home NLCS MVP and World Series MVP, and that Hamels spent his entire career in Philadelphia as a blue-chip prospect who turned into an ace, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
You could almost sense that Hamels knew this start meant something special even though it had no bearing on how Philadelphia’s season will pan out. He came out with a little extra something on his fastball, showcasing the type of velocity he rarely displays. With a cutter/fastball combo that typically sits in the 89-93 mph range, Hamels was lighting up the radar gun, consistently hitting 94-95, occasionally even touching 96 mph — something I’ve never seen from Hamels in his decade in the bigs.
With that kind of fastball to go along with his hallmark changeup and ever-improving curveball, Hamels had no-hit stuff. I mean that figuratively and, it turns out, literally.
As the innings went on and the Cubs remained hitless, my dad and I paid extra attention. Cole was striking out Cubs with ease, forcing weak contact and cruising through the game. When the seventh inning approached, my dad already proclaimed that dinner could wait. We couldn’t move away from the TV.
Hamels made it through that seventh, then the eighth, the Cubs still held hitless. By the time the ninth rolled around, it almost felt inevitable. Hamels was pitching the best regular-season game of his life in what was sure to be his last start in a Phillies uniform, and he wasn’t about to let it slip away.
You could just see that the Cubs had no chance. And while it took an unnecessarily wild catch to get out 27 and complete the no-hit bid, Cole finished the job and closed the book on his Philadelphia career in style.
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It was not only a first for Cole, but a first for me as well. It was the first time I saw a no-hitter with my father, albeit on television. When Kevin Millwood threw his no-hitter for the Phillies, I was away at college, and when Roy Halladay tossed his perfect game and playoff no-hitter, I was at my place, not with my dad. That added another nice touch to Hamels’ final start for my favorite baseball team.
Now with the word last night that the Phillies officially traded Hamels to the Texas Rangers, it makes the moment that much more special.
Hamels is, for all intents and purposes, the best Phillies pitcher of my era. Yes, Roy Halladay won a Cy Young for the Phillies and Cliff Lee had one of the greatest stretches in history to finish out the regular season and on through the World Series after he came over from the Cleveland Indians, but neither spent that much time in Philadelphia. Same thing can be said for Curt Schilling, who had the majority of his success in Boston, and anyone else you want to name in the past 25 years.
He was homegrown. He fulfilled all expectations. He dominated to get the Phillies just their second title in franchise history. And he molded himself into one of the game’s premier talents.
Now, he’s off to Texas along with hard-throwing lefty reliever Jake Diekman, and it feels odd to say that.
Everyone knew, given the state of the Phillies and the value of Hamels, that a trade was inevitable. The Phillies need to restock their system and build for the future, and Hamels, at 31, is in the prime of his career and the type of piece that can be a difference come October — even if that isn’t necessarily this October for Texas.
And that’s exactly what the Phillies did. They received six players in all for Hamels and Diekman, led by prize catching prospect Jorge Alfaro. It’s the type of haul — Matt Harrison, Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher and Alfaro — that could set the Phillies up for the future, particularly when added to the young building blocks the Phillies already have in Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola and J.P. Crawford.
Alfaro is the power-hitting catching prize, Williams a power outfielder, and the trio of right-handed arms all have high ceilings. Chances are at least one or two will hit, and perhaps even more.
Meanwhile, Texas gets another ace to partner with Yu Darvish next year and beyond. Hamels is locked up for a few more years, and as Saturday’s no-hitter displayed, he has plenty in the tank to get him through the length of his contract still at the top of his game.
For his part, Hamels gets out of a complete rebuild in Philadelphia and on a team closer to contention than it may appear this year. It’s never fun to see an elite player who came up in the system and pitched his heart out for 10 years head to a new city to put on a new uniform, but that’s the price of rebuilding in Major League Baseball. Pitching is at a premium, and elite pitchers in the their primes are exactly the type of trade chips that can change the fortune of each franchise involved.
The Rangers get themselves an excellent left-handed ace, and the Phillies get the pieces they need to really ramp up their rebuilding efforts.
I’m just thankful I’ve gotten to see Hamels take the hill every fifth day for the past decade, and especially thankful for all he’s done for a historically inept franchise. Oh, and for going out in style, throwing a no-hitter in his last start in Phillies red and giving Phillies fan one final special moment as the team’s ace.