NEW YORK—The sun was due to hit the horizon at any minute. At least that’s what I’d heard. The month of October is a blur when you’re chasing around a baseball team. In fact, another writer pointed out that yesterday was Monday and I stared at him for a long moment. It didn’t feel like a Monday, but then again nothing feels the same anymore.
The numbness set in that day it snowed in Denver during the NLDS and hasn’t relented.
So sitting there feeling numb, tired while waiting for the sun that I had heard so much about, the remote control instinctively went to the MLB. If there was no Larry David out there in the ether what else would one want to watch?
But there on the screen appeared a bunch of guys sitting on bar stools on the field. The setting was the same exact place that I had left only it looked so much different on television. It was bigger and greener on the TV, which I chalked up to those crafty guys in the MLB Network CGI department.
There was no need for any kind of special effects when panelist Mitch Williams popped on the screen. After all, Mitch is a damned force of nature with his rapid-fire delivery of each thought that tickles the locus of his brain. It’s fabulous because generally on TV they don’t do nuance well. With Mitch the nuance is the hammer he uses to obliterate all notion of conventional wisdom…
You know, as it relates to wisdom on basic cable.
But Mitch’s grand point of the night was speculative in nature, because that’s what they do on those types of shows. Someone makes a point, another guy takes the opposing view, they argue and then it’s time to go to the commercial.
However, Mitch dropped a point that wasn’t too unpopular in these parts lately, and the idea was that if the World Series gets to a seventh game, there is no way manager Charlie Manuel should run Cole Hamels out there. Who cares that Hamels will be the freshest pitcher on the staff and it will be his day to pitch? Mitch said if the Phillies can force Game 7 at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night, the reigning World Series MVP should not pitch.
“There’s huge doubt,” Williams said on ESPN Radio. “If I’m Charlie Manuel there’s no way in the world he’s pitching. A player comes out in the middle of the World Series when the entire team is busting their butts to get this thing accomplished again to repeat and one of the mainstays in the rotation says he just wants the season over? Well, he wouldn’t have to ask me twice for it to be over, he wouldn’t pitch again. I’d take my chances with J.A. Happ. … I cannot send Cole Hamels out there after he said he wants the season to end and then have to look at the rest of the team in the face and say, ‘He was just kidding.’”
Sure, the quote might have been taken out of context, but Williams did not care.
“You don’t let that quote come out of your mouth, period,” Williams said. “That’s been the problem with Cole this year. I thought last year in the postseason he was the best pitcher on the planet. This year when the playoffs started he was complaining that the Phillies had to play games that start at 2:30 p.m. There are certain things as a player that you just don’t let be known. You definitely don’t let your opponent know that you’re upset at what time the game is starting, because they know going in that your mind is not where it’s supposed to be and it will take nothing to get you rattled on the mound.”
Mitch is old school. He was the heart-and-soul of the ’93 Phillies’ infamous “Macho Row.” He’s no sooner as hit a guy with a pitch in the back than give up an intentional walk and mess with his pitch count. Why waste the energy?
Cole Hamels is the anti-Mitch. Where Cole has precious ads with his wife and sweet little dogs that get carted around town in designer sweaters in a backpack, and has his hair gently highlighted, Mitch wore a mullet. He spit and cursed and owned horses and pigs on his farm called, “The 3-and-2 Ranch.”
If Hamels is Tokyo, Williams is Paris. They are as opposite as a pair of left-handers could be.
Still, give Williams credit for not holding back or allowing his biases to be swayed by thinking something through. Williams’ analysis is just like his pitching was—hurried, fast, wild and a little sloppy.
And who doesn’t love it?
Still, Mitch Williams telling a manager not to use a pitcher? Really? Certainly his idea to bypass Hamels in a Game 7 is one that I would have completely ignored if it was offered by anyone else. But because it was Mitch Williams, it was put right out there on the batting tee for anyone to knock out of the park.
Mitch Williams, as everyone knows, pitched the fateful Game 6 of the 1993 World Series for the Phillies. Manager Jim Fregosi brought his closer into the game in the ninth inning with a one-run lead and the meat of the fearsome Blue Jays’ offense coming to the plate. If Mitch could have gotten three outs, the Phillies would have played in Game 7 the next night. With a one-run cushion he had very little margin for error. That was especially the case considering it was Mitch who was on the mound in Game 4 when the Phillies blew a five-run lead with six outs to go. When Larry Andersen struggled in the eighth, Fregosi turned to Williams who gave up six runs.
Then again, it could hardly be Williams’ fault. His fastball and command of his slider were shot from overuse and too much tight-rope walking during the regular season and the playoffs. By the time he got in there to face Joe Carter with one out and two on, it was already too late.
So why did Fregosi put Williams in at all? Clearly an astute baseball man like Fregosi was wise enough to see what everyone else saw, which was all his closer had left was guile dressed up as good luck.
In other words, Fregosi was sending Williams out on a Kamikaze mission. Dutifully, Williams put on his crash helmet and went out there.
So why did Fregosi send Williams out there in Game 6 with the season on the line? Simple, he felt loyalty to his guy and didn’t feel like he had anyone better. Was Roger Mason going to pitch the ninth inning? Sure, it sounds logical to us, but we were there with Curt Schilling with our heads buried in a towel.
But given the chance, if it comes to a Game 7, Cole Hamels would be my man. I’d give him the ball and would expect that he not only would pitch seven innings, but also that he would win the game. In fact, I don’t know if there is any other logical choice.
Yeah, yeah, I know all about the numbers. I’ve seen the frustration, the body language and heard the comments. And yes I remember watching J.A. Happ pitch against the Yankees in May where he pitched really well before Brad Lidge blew it in the ninth.
I know all of this and I don’t care. I’m being exactly like Mitch in this sense.
The reason I give the ball to Hamels in Game 7 (if the Phillies even get there) is because I think he has pride. I think he’s been hurt by all of the slings and arrows and is dying for one more chance to save his season.
Yes, it’s all about redemption for Hamels.
“I know Hamels. I’ve been a Hamels guy ever since I seen him pitch in Lakewood and when I first came to work here, I never, ever—I want you to listen to this—I never, ever questioned his mental toughness because he’s just as tough as anybody on our team. And I mean that. That part I’ve never, ever doubted,” Manuel said. “There’s definitely no quit in him, and I know he shows emotions at times, and he’s had like a freakish year and he’s going through a bad time, but at the same time he’ll get through it, and he’ll be the pitcher that you saw last year. That pitcher that you’ve been seeing for the last couple years, that’s who Hamels is. He is a gamer and he’s a fighter. I can’t say enough about him, really. That’s kind of how I see him.”
Needless to say Manuel just tipped his hand on who will pitch in Game 7 for the Phillies if Pedro Martinez wins on Wednesday night. Actually, there was no tipping at all because Charlie just put all his cards out there on the table.
Better yet, Hamels has been challenged by just about everyone. He’s even gone to the manager’s office and campaigned to get the ball in the season finale should it come to it. Now it’s all on him.
A wounded and cornered animal can do one of two things—he can roll over and die or he can fight back.
“He definitely wants to win and he wants us to win the World Series, and he definitely wants to play a big part in it,” Manuel said. “As a matter of fact, he might be wanting to play too big a part in it. But that’s kind of how I see it.”
Here’s betting Hamels gets the chance to fight back.