Some people were pretty broken up about Donovan McNabb leaving town. I know this because I received e-mails saying things like, "I'm pretty broken up about Donovan McNabb leaving town."

There's a whole faction of Philly fans out there who were despondent and think the Birds and some of the rest of us mistreated McNabb and forced him out of town. Maybe you weren't one of them, but they exist, and they were sad to see him go.

When they finally form their support group - held on alternate Tuesdays at the local VFW - Cole Hamels will no doubt be selected to lead the Missing McNabb Meeting, or Triple M for those of you who prefer acronyms.

Close your eyes. You can almost see Hamels in a room full of weepy fans fueled by stale doughnuts and weak coffee. As they sit around and hold hands with one another, the sharing begins:

Hamels: Hi. I'm Cole.

Triple M members: Hi, Cole.

Hamels: Two years ago, I had it all. Then I hit a rough patch, and things got pretty bad. I just wasn't delivering. But at least I had Don to take some of the heat off. He covered for me. Now he's gone, and I'm all alone with people who can't decide if they dig me or detest me.

With McNabb in Washington, there's no question who's inherited his position as the most scrutinized athlete in Philly. After 11 years of oscillating between loving and hating McNabb, we've shifted the focus of our sports schizophrenia to Hamels.

On Sunday, after pitching into the ninth inning, Hamels received a standing ovation from the crowd at Citizen's Bank Park. Even though he lost the game, he pitched well, and the fans acknowledged it.

It was a different reaction than he experienced after his first two starts of the season - both of which, ironically, were wins. Hamels had some rough moments in those initial outings, and some Phils fans grumbled that Hollywood might be a big budget bust. Those same people - the intemperate and impatient who didn't wait for the season to mature before hammering Hamels - receded into the background on Sunday. Don't think they're gone for good. They're just waiting for him to stumble again, at which point they'll reappear.

Hamels is learning what the stars that came before him - McNabb and Allen Iverson, Eric Lindros and Randall Cunningham and so many others - found out a long time ago: Perception often trumps reality in Philly. How Hamels actually plays seems not to matter to a subset of fans and journalists who have already made up their minds about the pitcher. Some people are predisposed to dislike him.

Hamels is an easy target in a lot of ways: the (quasi) celebrity wife; the amateurish, low-budget commercials; the creepy Philadelphia magazine ad he did with children that weren't his; the tiny dog he once carried around Center City; the inane comments he made during the World Series last year about wanting a fresh start - none of that has helped him avoid being picked at by the circling vultures who love feasting on his flesh.

Part of that simply comes with the gig when you're a high-profile athlete here. And part of it is unfair or at the very least premature. McNabb and some others had long runs in Philadelphia before the spotlight became too hot, and they either melted or moved on (or both). Hamels hasn't been extended the same courtesy.

He had a down season a year ago, no doubt. But the 2010 campaign is off to a far better start, a fact the detractors conveniently ignore.

Last season, Hamels was 0-2 in his first three starts with an ERA (9.69) more bloated than Charlie Manuel's pre-weight-loss waistline. This season, Hamels is 2-1 in his first three starts with a much-improved 3.86 ERA.

(It's only appropriate to pause here and acknowledge a Sports Wit' record that will almost definitely stand forever: Two sets of stats in a single Page 2 column. It's our version of the Joe DiMaggio hit streak.)

Between his better individual numbers and the team's hot collective start, you'd think Hamels would be afforded a little time to do what Manuel said and gradually "get better command of his pitches."

Nope. Doesn't work that way. Not here. Not with Hamels.

It would behoove Hamels to polish the cutter and curve as soon as possible - to pitch the way he did in the 2008 playoffs and avoid anything remotely resembling his performance in 2009 - because the wait-and-see-how-he-throws method doesn't work for some people around here. They get antsy, and then the mob mobilizes with pitchforks and lanterns and that's when things get ugly.

I wonder if his critics know they can't trade him to the Redskins.