SAN FRANCISCO - Phillies fans can relate to this scenario:
A 22-year-old top-20 pick fast-tracks through the minor leagues, where he dominates, recording absurdly dominant outings until keeping him out of the majors seems ridiculous. Then, in early May, the big club calls him up with much fanfare.
That was Cole Hamels last season. It is Tim Lincecum this season.
Lincecum, the 10th pick in last year's draft, is expected to start for the Giants tomorrow night opposite Hamels. It is ESPN's featured "Sunday Night Baseball" game, and it will be cast as a meeting of phenoms.
"It's a great draw for a national TV audience," said Jon Miller, ESPN's play-by-play man and the Giants' radio voice.
Hamels, a lefthander, was the 17th pick in the 2002 draft, but his ascension was delayed by injury. He began last season healthy, cruised through seven minor league starts in which he went 3-1 with a 1.04 earned run average and 65 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings with only 10 walks. After four Class A starts, Hamels, who lived on a killer changeup and a 93-mph fastball, landed at Triple A and went 2-0 with a 0.39 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 23 innings, with one walk.
Lincecum, a righthanded star at the University of Washington, is 4-0 with a 0.29 ERA in five Triple A starts. With a 94-mph fastball and a striking curve, he has fanned 46 in 31 innings, with 11 walks.
Their bios might be similar. Their physiques are not. Hamels is 6-3 and 190 pounds. Lincecum is generously listed at 5-11 and 170 pounds; he might be as short as 5-8 and as light as 160.
"He's different," said Phillies scout Charlie Kerfeld, whose Gig Harbor, Wash., home is near UW. "I saw him pitch the last 2 years. You see him and you say, 'He ain't much.' Then you see him pitch, and it's coming out 94, 95, with a funky motion. The best way to describe him is he's like Roy Oswalt."
Oswalt, the Astros' ace, is widely considered the best pitcher in the National League over the past seven seasons. Oswalt, listed at (wink-wink) 6-feet and 185 pounds, also has had to overcome the stigma of being too small to dominate.
"A lot of people – and I was one of those guys – who wondered if [Lincecum] could stand up to the demands of pitching in the majors," Kerfeld said.
That question begins to be answered tomorrow night, which will be Hamels' "Sunday Night Baseball" debut. Typically, the spotlight cannot be too bright for the surf-stud prototype whom teammates call "Hollywood."
"It's going to be a good opportunity for fans to know what to expect," said Hamels, who has 29 major league starts. "You know, what's going to be out there to keep the game alive. We cherish these opportunities."
That's the character in the "L'il Abner" comic strip who always had a rain cloud over him. Yoel Hernandez has no idea who Joe Bftsplk is, but he felt like him.
"Always, the black cloud is over me," Hernandez said in February, when the Phillies took him off the 40-man roster. Yesterday, when he joined the major league team to replace injured closer Tom Gordon, he said, "The black cloud is gone, maybe."
Hernandez, 27, was one of the organization's top relief prospects during the 2004 season, when he had a 2.01 ERA in 20 appearances for Double A Reading, but an elbow injury sidelined him in August that year. Surgery delayed and hindered his 2005 campaign. Last year, a shoulder strain limited him to nine outings in Triple A, and lingering effects of the strain moved the Phils to outright him this spring. He began the season with Triple A Ottawa.
So, when Lynx manager John Russell called Hernandez into his office Thursday afternoon, Hernandez expected no good news, having been used sporadically recently, despite pitching well. After a rough debut, he had allowed three hits, one walk and no runs in his six subsequent outings, using a nasty sinker and an effective slider to log three saves.
His light use of late prompted a worried Hernandez to call agent Andy Lipman on Sunday. Hernandez said Lipman called the Phillies, who divulged to Lipman that Gordon was nursing a sore shoulder and that Hernandez was being held back in case he got called up.
Still, when Russell called in Hernandez, he tormented Hernandez, who knew only that Gordon had pitched a perfect ninth inning in Atlanta on Wednesday.
"J.R. said, 'We want to send you to . . . ' and he waited, like, 5 seconds," Hernandez said. "And then he said, ' . . . to Philadelphia.'
"I couldn't control myself," Hernandez said. "I didn't know whether to laugh or cry."
He looked positively sunny.
With Russ Ortiz landing on the DL the Giants yesterday recalled Triple A righthander Scott Munter and designated infielder Lance Niekro for assignment . . . With his single in the sixth inning Aaron Rowand extended his streak of reaching base to 25 straight games. *