Cole Hamels allows three homers as Phillies lose opener
ATLANTA - The first pitch was less than three hours away Monday, and $435.5 million worth of Phillies lounged on three leather couches. The six players watched baseball because there was nothing left to do. They had waited an entire winter and seven weeks of spring training for this night that could not start soon enough.
ATLANTA - The first pitch was less than three hours away Monday, and $435.5 million worth of Phillies lounged on three leather couches. The six players watched baseball because there was nothing left to do. They had waited an entire winter and seven weeks of spring training for this night.
Cole Hamels, the most expensive of them all, had waited years for this moment. He prepared for his first opening-day start in a corner of the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field. But all that preparation was not enough to prevent mistakes against a Braves lineup that gashed him for three home runs in a 7-5 loss. It was one game, one night, and beyond frustrating because of the wait.
"You get the excitement going," Hamels said. "You have to settle in. That's the tough part. You have to control your emotions. It's a sold-out crowd. It's opening day. You want to win. I wasn't able to execute."
He did not flinch after throwing fat pitches that landed for the first two Atlanta homers. The third, a 1-2 cutter to Justin Upton that split home plate in the fifth inning, was the breaking point. Hamels bent over, put his hands on his knees, and dipped his head.
The Phillies are 0-1 for the first time since 2009. The schedule calls for another day of inactivity Tuesday, which does not feel right after just 2 hours, 56 minutes of baseball and the immediate disappointment it created.
They flashed brilliance - Ben Revere's 11-pitch walk, Chase Utley's three-hit show, the constant chipping away - but it was not enough. Hamels allowed five runs in five innings. He could not locate his pitches. He spiked his curveballs. He floated his cutters.
"It looked like he was really fighting to get the ball where he wanted it," manager Charlie Manuel said.
As it began its Post-Chipper Era, Atlanta added power this winter with the Upton brothers. This lineup could mash 200 home runs in 2013. Hamels served up three in a game for the ninth time in his career.
Freddie Freeman drilled a 93-m.p.h., belt-high cutter in the first inning. Dan Uggla smacked a 91-m.p.h. fastball on a 3-0 count. That swing initiated the stadium's chant as red foam tomahawks waved among the 51,456 in attendance.
Hamels has lost his first start five times in the last seven years. He did not pitch more than 51/3 innings in any of those outings since 2008.
The hole grew deeper when Chad Durbin relieved Hamels in the sixth. The veteran reliever faced three hitters, all of whom reached base, and two scored. For Durbin, it was a continuation of a rocky spring in which opposing scouts doubted his stuff.
Hamels' performance could have been an unsightly footnote had Durbin not stumbled. The Phillies' offense was plenty capable. Utley, playing his first opening day since 2010, was spectacular in falling a double shy of the cycle. He blasted a Tim Hudson pitch to straightaway center for his 200th career home run. His legs carried him to third base on a ball hit to the wall in right-center.
When Revere grinded out an 11-pitch walk, it gassed Hudson. The Phillies scored twice in the fifth to cut Atlanta's lead to one. Hudson was removed before Hamels. The possibility for greater damage disappeared when Ryan Howard whiffed against lefty Luis Avilan and Domonic Brown tapped a grounder with the bases loaded.
"We stayed with them," Manuel said. "We fought them all night. We were close. You're looking at two good teams."
In the ninth Guns N' Roses blared to signal flamethrowing Craig Kimbrel's entrance. After 16 pitches, the Phillies and their fans were forced to begin waiting again to taste victory.