WASHINGTON - Cole Hamels carried his smartphone in his pitching hand and pulled a small black suitcase with his other. He walked a straight line in the basement at Nationals Park until he playfully swayed the bag back and forth. It was 5 p.m. Sunday, the day Hamels lost for the eighth time in 11 starts, and this was his way of relaxing.
Once again, the Phillies did not score for him in a 6-1 loss. Hamels last pitched with a lead 49 days ago. No pitcher in baseball is saddled with more losses than the $144 million ace.
Hamels, the face of a disappointing Phillies season almost one-third completed, refuses to admit frustration.
"It's baseball," Hamels said. "It's a game. Luckily enough I've played it for a long time and I get to play it for a long time. I have five more days to get ready for Milwaukee. I'll go out there and execute strike one on the first hitter. That's all I can do."
He spoke in platitudes, which was more than he offered last Monday in Miami after a 10-strikeout performance was wasted. He left the talking to his teammates and coaches, who praised the pitcher's poise and sympathized with his misfortune.
By voicing nothing then, Hamels said plenty. When asked Sunday if there was a reason for his silence, Hamels told a reporter, "I think you're pretty intelligent and you can figure that out."
Where to begin?
The Phillies have scored 20 runs in the 69 innings Hamels has pitched. Stephen Strasburg and Hamels matched zeros for six innings Sunday, thinning the line between winning and losing. Hamels' defense melted down in the seventh inning as two infielders failed to make difficult plays. The game was decided on a 65-foot dribbler up the third-base line. Michael Young charged it and could not hit his catcher, Humberto Quintero, in the chest from close range.
"Good pitch," Young said. "Broken bat."
Delmon Young, the designated hitter-turned-rightfielder, misplayed another ball that led to an unearned run. The damage was fatal; the Phillies were reduced to wistful thinking about achieving a .500 record. That is what defines mediocrity.
"The last thing we want to do is start turning this into something where we try extra hard when Cole pitches," Michael Young said. "Because that can tend to snowball."
Consider the snowballs rolling.
"It started snowballing on him," Charlie Manuel said. "They got a couple fluke hits and it put us in a bad position."
The manager said he did not know what to tell Hamels, other than the ball is his in another few days. Hamels said he needs no reassurances from his teammates because his mental state is fine. He even cracked a joke when asked if he thought the cards would soon fall his way.
"I've been doing pretty well on the plane in poker," Hamels said.
Dig beyond the brave face, and think to the day Hamels signed his historic contract last July. Remember his justification for becoming the richest athlete in Philadelphia sports history?
"I know the Phillies," Hamels said then. "The organization is always going to do a good job of going out to win. We have great players here. So you don't want to leave that, stray away, see them win and not be a part of it. It came down to that."
He said the words "win" or "winning" 19 times that day. Hamels could have waited three months and negotiated a more lucrative deal to possibly pitch for a team with a better chance at contending. If that is what mattered most, Hamels must now wonder about his choice.