OFFICIALLY, Cole Hamels' night lasted into the fifth inning. But it looked very much over seven batters into the fourth. That was when he issued his third walk of the frame, this one with the bases loaded, to Mets starting Jon Niese. All told, it took Hamels 37 pitches to finish the fourth inning, and while the Mets managed to milk just two runs out of it, the effects were lasting. New York added three more runs in the fifth inning, and Roberto Hernandez trotted in from the Phillies' bullpen to face Niese.
Aside from Marlon Byrd's third home run of the season, there wasn't much in the way of highlights on a cold, rainy night that ended in a 6-1 loss. The start of the game was delayed for nearly an hour-and-a-half and the Flyers were playing across the street, both factors helping to drain whatever energy might have otherwise existed for the season opener between two teams hoping that the first 4 weeks of the season were a demonstration of just how wrong the oddsmakers will prove to be.
Hamels, making his second start of the season, never appeared to find a rhythm. The wind was steady, the rain heavy at times. The extent to which it affected his control is known only to him, but it could not have helped. It was the seventh time in his career that he walked five batters in a game, but only the fourth since June 2007. He did so twice last season, including once against the Mets.
Hamels said he was having difficulty gripping the baseball.
"I think today might have been the day to use pine tar," he said ruefully. "Unfortunately, I don't do that. It might have been the day to learn. It was difficult to grip the ball and difficult to throw strikes, but you have to be able to battle out there and I wasn't able to do it."
Hamels retired five of the first seven batters he faced but only seven of the last 19, one of which came on a sacrifice bunt. Meanwhile, Niese was his usual bedeviling self. Niese entered the night with a 3.13 ERA in 15 career starts against the Phillies, with 80 strikeouts, 32 walks and only seven home runs allowed in 95 innings. Last season, he held them to one earned run in 15 2/3 innings, including a complete-game shutout on Aug. 27. Niese has now held the Phillies to three or fewer runs in 13 of his 16 career starts, and two or fewer runs in 10.
Until Ryan Howard's ninth-inning double off relieve Jose Valverde, Byrd's homer in the fourth was the Phillies' lone extra-base hit. Aside from that, the Phillies did not put a runner in scoring position until the eighth inning. Niese walked one batter and allowed singles to Howard, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz. Otherwise, he cruised.
The Phillies went 9-10 against the Mets last season and 8-10 against them in 2012. Despite underwhelming numbers on the mound and at the plate, New York entered the night with a 14-11 record that put them in second place in the NL East.
In addition to the bases-loaded walk to Niese in the fourth, Hamels allowed RBI singles to Daniel Murphy (third inning) and Josh Satin (fourth), an RBI double to Chris Young, and a two-run single to Ruben Tejada, both in the fifth inning. Mario Hollands retired all six batters he faced, two via strikeout.
By the end of the game, a steady rain was prompting plenty of between-innings work by the grounds crew.
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said he had no problem with the decision to play through the elements. "It was what we expected," he said. "It was the same for both sides."
The poor weather is expected to last through today. As of game time last night, the feeling in the Phillies' clubhouse was that today's game was unlikely to be played. The Phillies are off tomorrow, but the Mets are in Colorado.
That would force the Phillies to be idle until Friday and the start of a three-game series against the Nationals.