With Charlie Manuel back in the Phillies’ dugout for the first time in six years and Jake Arrieta revealing he was finished for the season, the marquee pitching matchup scheduled for Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park became a bit of a footnote.
It remained one once the game started, too.
Aaron Nola held up his end of the bargain by delivering seven sensational innings in an 11-1 Phillies win over the Chicago Cubs. But Cole Hamels’ return to the place where he received the World Series MVP award 11 years ago was a homecoming he will not spend any time telling his grandchildren about.
In his third start since returning from a strained oblique injury and just his second career start against the Phillies, Hamels received some nice tributes from the fans. They applauded loudly for him in the pregame introductions, then greeted him with a standing ovation before he stepped to the plate in the top of the third inning.
He managed a polite wave of appreciation, but he was already aggravated by that point after surrendering four runs on five hits in the first two innings. The carnage included a two-run homer by Bryce Harper, the first of his two home runs during the Phillies’ 13-hit night.
“I’m thankful to the fans for the support, but when you just got your butt kicked for two straight innings, I’m kind of focused on that,” Hamels said. “I tried to give them the best salute I could at the moment, but I wish it had been a better situation. Maybe if it had been zero-zero, I would have been a little more excited about it.”
Hamels, who wore the DPM patch designed for the Phillies’ uniforms in tribute to recently deceased team chairman David Montgomery, received one more ovation in the bottom of the third when Cubs manager Joe Maddon came to the mound to get the baseball from him. He had surrendered two more runs and four more hits and was in no mood to tip his cap when he retreated to the visiting dugout.
He expects to be fined for wearing the patch, but he said, “I’ll take the fine. I really don’t care. David meant a lot to me and my wife.”
Hamels, traded by the Phillies in 2015, had not pitched against his former team before this season. Now, in two starts against the Phillies, he has a 16.50 ERA, having allowed 11 runs and 18 hits in six innings.
The Phillies tagged Hamels for eight runs on nine hits in just two-plus innings in what was arguably the worst start of his major-league career. The only time he allowed more runs in an outing was in a July 2015 start at San Francisco when he surrendered nine runs on 12 hits, but he retired four more batters in that game than he did in this one.
Once Hamels departed, this became a night to celebrate Nola and Charlie.
Nola allowed just three hits, one walk and one run on a seventh-inning homer by Cubs slugger Kris Bryant. He improved to 11-3 and lowered his ERA to 3.56.
Meanwhile, the chants of “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie” started early and reached a crescendo when J.T. Realmuto hit a grand slam off Cubs reliever Alec Mills to make it 10-0 in the third inning. The chants started again when Harper homered a second time in the sixth inning.
Hamels’ ERA shot up from 3.09 to 3.69 and you wonder if the two starts against his former team will be etched in the minds of the Phillies’ front office when they go shopping for free-agent pitchers this offseason.
Maddon, who has seen Hamels post a 2.78 ERA in the 30 games he has not pitched against the Phillies for the Cubs, still believes the left-hander has plenty left in the tank, but he admitted the lefty’s velocity was down Wednesday night.
“Absolutely it was,” Maddon said. “He might have touched 91 or 92 once, but a lot of 90s and 89s in there. He’s trying to force the velocity and it’s just not coming out. That’s a delivery-related issue for me. It’s not that he is hurt. His delivery is off and his timing is off.”
It will be a tough call for whatever team decides to sign Hamels beyond next season. If he’d agree to a two-year deal, it would make it easier and maybe he would for the opportunity to finish out his career in Philadelphia, a place he loves and still lives.
Even after one of the most difficult starts of his life, he gushed about the place that was his baseball home for nine years.
“It was nice to get back,” Hamels said. “This is a great place with great memories. Just a tremendous fan base and great organization. To see the support they gave me no matter what was happening in the game, I’m very thankful for that. This place has definitely toughened me up, too.”
Hamels will turn 36 two days after Christmas and the line of pitchers who have continued to perform at an elite level at that age and beyond is short. Hamels, however, does have something in common with most of the guys on the list: they were elite long before they reached the age of 36.