DUNEDIN, Fla. - There are moments when the real baseball world feels so far away, as if the Phillies have spent the last month-and-a-half floating in an ocean reading dispatches from the rest of the sport, as if that is how they are destined to spend the next 3 to 5 years. Several of those moments occurred here yesterday, moments when Cole Hamels paced the mound with his usual superstar nonchalance before whirling the length of his frame into that familiar graceful motion and delivering another strike to the plate.
Down in Fort Myers, Shane Victorino was attracting headlines the way honest players on successful big-market teams tend to, defending comments he recently made advocating that the Red Sox act on their long-rumored interest in acquiring his World Series teammate. The fascinating thing was that the former Phillies centerfielder made those original comments in the paper you are reading, and yet they barely registered on the local Doppler, where Hurricane Chip seems happy to swallow all the other blotches on the screen for the foreseeable future. That's not to say the comments were worth the maelstrom that apparently ensued on Boston sports radio, where Victorino was charged with attempting to run his chief competition for a starting job out of town with his (by the way, accurate) suggestion that Mookie Betts is still a huge unknown quantity, compared with the production from Hamels the Red Sox could carve in stone.
But this is Philadelphia, a city where our world renown is limited to the founding of a modern democracy and the grilling of greasy, meat-based sandwiches and the overreacting to meaningless BS regarding our professional sports teams. United States, cheesesteaks and hot takes - that is what we do. The mere fact that you have paid attention long enough to be reading this sentence is the kind of phenomena masters theses are made of.
Meanwhile, as Victorino was engaging in his familiar (and dearly missed) verbal scramble drill and Hamels was doing what Hamels does on the mound, the Blue Jays trotted out a lineup that made mountains of those aforementioned moments of clarity. Jose Reyes stepping into the box, Jose Bautista stepping into the box, Josh Donaldson stepping into the box, Russell Martin stepping into the box, Hamels staring them all down, the bill of his cap like the barrel of a rifle, leaning and driving and planting and following through, delivering fastballs, changeups, curveballs and cutters and holding the Blue Jays without a hit for the first four innings, walking off the mound after the fifth without a run on the scoreboard, his final act striking out Reyes with a man on third on a curveball-changeup-changeup combo.
Afterward, somebody asked Hamels about that moment, about surrendering a triple to Dalton Pompey, then coming back to strike Reyes out on three pitches, about the benefits of facing such a situation in spring training, about what that experience portends.
"In a crunch situation, you just have to bear down, and this is the type of situation that you're going to be in all the time during the season," Hamels said, "just because every pitch and every out matters."
And every one of those words felt hollow, rote, borderline disingenuous, because all of us know that none of his pitches will matter this season, none of his outs, none of his crunch situations, none of it will have any impact on the Phillies' ability to compete for a World Series, because the Phillies are not a good baseball team. Even though they copped to it at the start of the offseason, this spring has raised new questions about just how bad they will be, because there is nothing like seeing it in front of you, the prospect of the starting leftfielder and starting centerfielder having combined for a grand total of two home runs at the major league level, the prospect of Hamels and David Buchanan, followed by Aaron Harang, followed by Jerome Williams, followed by who the heck knows, all with the promise that the rotation simply needs to "hold down the fort" until the expected return of the guy who has made two starts since the end of the 2012 and is attempting to come back from two elbow surgeries. The Phillies will be bad, and if the Red Sox or Rangers or Cardinals do not heed Victorino's advice in the next 10 days, Hamels will be part of the bad, an epic bad, a bad this city has not seen since whenever the Sixers last played.
We could run down more of what Hamels had to say, or what he did against the Blue Jays, or what any of it means for the future, but he and you and I and everybody who has watched the Phillies this spring knows that none of it will matter.
Anyway, have a nice Friday.
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy