Sunday morning: Hamels steps up

PROGRAMMING NOTE: We are going LIVE during the second game of the day-night doubleheader against the Brewers. With no local television broadcast available and limited terrestrial radio outside of the Philadelphia region, I will give inning-by-inning synopses during the night cap. The format will be similar to past live offerings, though we may attempt to sneak in a little extra fun with a  chat or something like that. Anyway, be sure to dial it up or go to CSN for the latest.

Back to your regularly scheduled post…

Cole Hamels isn’t shy about telling people what he wants to achieve during his baseball career. Ask him and he’ll say he wants to have a career as long as Jamie Moyer. Hamels also wants to pitch a few no-hitters, take home a bunch of Cy Young Awards and be enshrined in the Hall of Fame when it’s all over.

Certainly such claims can sound boastful when read in print, but that’s hardly the case when Hamels says it. In fact, it comes out rather matter-of-factly, as if it’s a typical cliché answer to a regular old question.

Yeah, I’m going to take it one day at a time and hopefully I’ll be in the Hall of Fame.

But Hamels is wise enough to understand that legacies and greatness are not contrived solely from the numbers on the stat page. After all, anyone can pile up numbers. That’s easy. The true test is delivering in the really big games when post-season glory is on the line.

Hamels hasn’t had too many chances in so-called clutch starts, but the four he has pitched in run the gamut. Last Sunday at Shea Stadium Hamels came back on short rest with a chance to pitch the Phillies into a first-place tie with the Mets on national TV, but came up with a real clunker in a 6-3 loss. Needless to say, a win in that game could have gone a long way for the Phillies.

Prior to last Sunday’s big thud, Hamels was both awful and brilliant in Game 1 of last season’s NLDS. After a rough and sweaty second inning in which the Rockies put the Phillies in a deep hole, Hamels rebounded to retire 13 in a row and 15 of the final 16 hitters he faced.

Saturday afternoon’s victory over the free-falling Brewers wasn’t as great as the Sept. 28, 2007 outing in which Hamels whiffed 13 hitters and put the Phillies into first place, but definitely was clutch. Knowing that his season will be remembered for what he does these last two weeks, Hamels needed 113 pitches to grind out 6 1/3 innings to beat the Brewers for his 13th win. But in doing so he gave the Phillies a chance to move into a first-place tie in the wild-card race as early as Sunday night.

“It’s all about the team and the win, especially now,” Hamels said.  

“We want to play in October. We don’t want to be going home. Guys are kicking it in.”

Most notably (and it’s about time!) two of the guys kicking it in are Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins.

Rollins has had some nice Septembers in the last few years like when he put together that epic hitting streak and surged to the MVP Award. Luckily for the Phillies, he is at it again. In 11 games this month, Rollins is batting .362 with two homers, seven RBIs and a .417 on-base percentage.

In 2005 Howard set the rookie record for most homers during September and might be making a case for a second MVP Award this month. So far Howard has six homers, 17 RBIs and a .366 batting average. In doing that, Howard became the first player to pile up three straight 130-plus RBI seasons since Sammy Sosa from 1998 to 2001.

“There’s definitely more emphasis on things that are done in September,” Rollins said. “This last month, that’s all people are going to be talking about.”

Yes. Yes they are.

***

Beg, borrow, buy or steal a copy of the book Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Quite simply, the novel is a masterwork and a once-in-an-era work by a writer whose life ended way, way too short. Luckily for us, his work remains.

Saturday morning: Rain o’er the Phillies

In an odd way, rainouts and doubleheaders are kind of fun. Oh sure, they create a lot more work, confusion, time away from home and standing around for baseball players, coaches, officials and scribes. Rainouts and doubleheaders turn a team’s best laid plans into the mush inside of a pumpkin. Pitching matchups are ruined, bullpens are taxed, players get tired and injuries occur.

It’s just a big mess.

But there is something intriguing about the extraordinary. Rainouts and doubleheaders are not natural, therefore they force extreme measures. OK, the rain part is natural, but the previously mentioned groups of people are used to keeping tight schedules. When the routines are knocked askew, things go haywire… fast.

That’s the fun part. A little chaos now and again is healthy. So instead of watching a ballgame on Friday night, we all got to stare at raindrops as they bounced off the tarp covering the infield at the Bank. We also got to stand around and wait for word on how the pivotal series with Milwaukee Brewers was going to shake out. When it became obvious that there was no chance for the game to be played on Friday night, it was time to wade into the maelstrom.

For starters, the starters were hardly an issue for the Phillies. After pitching on short rest last Sunday in New York, Cole Hamels will get an extra day off before taking the ball on Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, Joe Blanton will also get an extra day of rest before pitching on Sunday, though Brett Myers will not have that luxury.

Myers declared himself fit to pitch on just three days of rest after a regularly scheduled between starts bullpen session on Friday afternoon. However, since both the Brewers and Phillies both had days off, a potential Myers (on regular rest) versus CC Sabathia matchup loomed for Monday.

If the coaching staffs for both teams had a say, there would be a baseball game on Monday. But they don’t have a say – just the players union and the league can decide when made up games can be played. As such, no one wanted to give up one of the last days off remaining in the season.

“I don’t like doubleheaders,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “It’s tough to win a doubleheader. It’s also better for our pitching if we play straight through. Everything falls better that way.”

The Phillies and Brewers players were unmoved by that sentiment.

“I talked to the players, we’d rather play a doubleheader,” Phillies player representative Jimmy Rollins said. “We’ve done it before. It’s a day-night, so it’s not like you’re going out there right after one game. We’ll get it in and preserve the off day.”

That means two games and two different admission fees on Sunday. It also means long rest for Blanton and short rest for Myers.

Most importantly, it means there is a really good chance the Phillies will leave the city on Monday trailing the Brewers in the wild-card race… the Mets? Forget it – the Mets aren’t pulling a choke job two years in a row.

The point is doubleheaders are difficult to sweep. Trailing the Brewers by three games, the Phillies can pull even with a series sweep. But that’s where the chaos enters the picture – Sunday will be a wild, all-hands-on-deck day for the Phillies. Pitchers arms will be spent come Monday when what really is needed is some good, old fashioned pacing. A handful of the Phillies’ relievers are leaking the proverbial oil as it is now, but wait until they head to Atlanta early next week. Throw in the fact that Blanton has hardly been the innings-eating pitcher as advertised since joining the Phillies in July means the team might have to rely on the Brewers’ late season freefall to score the coveted sweep.

Yes, sweeps are difficult to achieve. But get one here and a brand-new monkey wrench will enter the fray for the final fortnight of the season.

Break out the gauze, ice and duct tape. It’s going get bumpy.

***
Speaking of bumpy, check out Pat Jordan’s epic on the star-crossed Barry Zito in The New York Times’ “Play” magazine.

The money quote from Zito? “… Hot chicks don’t dig ballplayers.”

No. No they don’t.

Also, Milwaukee Todd chatted up Pat Burrell about the chance he could be playing his last games with the Phillies. If Burrell departs it would break up the link with Jimmy Rollins, who have been teammates dating back to Single-A ball in 1998.

Meanwhile, Boston Sully got behind the scenes with the machinations involved in determining when Friday’s postponed game will be played.