Cole Hamels vanished from Citizens Bank Park in the first inning Tuesday night. He left the Phillies dugout, dressed in the clubhouse, and drove to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital for a hastily arranged MRI, knowing he was about to sign a contract that would make him the richest athlete in Philadelphia sports history.
There are many reasons why Hamels, two months shy of free agency, bypassed an opportunity for the baseball world to enter a bidding war for his left arm. Six years and $144 million were vital; Hamels also cited his familiarity with the city, its fans, and the Phillies organization.
Above all, the 28-year-old has known only winning in his big-league career. He heard assurances from Phillies officials they could contend with an expanding payroll and aging core. With the arrival Tuesday of a second counteroffer, a deal that could ultimately make him the highest-paid pitcher ever, Hamels was sold.
While the Phillies authored another thrilling comeback, doctors injected Hamels' arm with dye in two separate spots. Michael Ciccotti, the team's head physician, examined the captured images and called Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. with his approval. John Boggs, Hamels' agent, caught a red-eye flight from San Diego. Shortly after midnight, Amaro texted team president David Montgomery, who was driving home from the ballpark.
It was done.
"You're always thinking, 'We haven't gotten there yet, so when?' " Montgomery said. "The reality is, as long as there was productive dialogue going on, we thought there was a really good chance of it happening."
The negotiations did not intensify until 10 days ago - Amaro called them "long and laborious" - but this was years in the making. After Hamels was named most valuable player of the 2008 World Series, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline, "The Fabulous New Life of Cole Hamels."
His newest existence could earn him more than any pitcher ever has. If a seventh-year option that automatically vests should Hamels be healthy in 2018 and reach certain innings limits, the contract would pay him a total of $162 million. That would surpass CC Sabathia's $161 million contract with the New York Yankees before the 2009 season.
Hamels spoke glowingly about the Phillies and their fans Wednesday.
"It's here to win and to win multiple championships," Hamels said. "We got one in '08. As much as I did my part, I'd still kind of like to do more. It went too fast. I want to make it happen again, as many times as possible, just so I think I can remember them."
The Phillies have guaranteed more years to only one player, Chase Utley. Until the Cliff Lee deal two winters ago, they had never signed a pitcher for four or more years. Amaro acknowledged there was reluctance in an unprecedented agreement.
"I don't know if it will ever be comfortable," Amaro said. "But we felt like it was the right thing to do under the circumstance, with his performance, his age, and the importance on our club."
The Phillies have invested $68 million in three starting pitchers - Hamels, Lee, and Roy Halladay - for 2013. In total, the Phillies are committed to $133 million in 2013 payroll for only nine players. That does not include a $5 million team option for catcher Carlos Ruiz sure to be exercised and a possible $15 million payment through arbitration for outfielder Hunter Pence.
In other words, the Phillies may be far from finished in making moves. One goal could be to clear enough salary in 2012 to dip under the luxury-tax limit of $178 million so the team can eclipse it in 2013. There are punitive penalties for repeat tax offenders, and the Phillies have maintained they will not pay it. Montgomery admitted a small "tinker" will not prevent them from paying tax in 2012.
It could be totally unavoidable in 2013 with the current payroll commitments.
Trading Lee for salary relief and younger chips does not appear to be an option. Hamels cited Lee's and Halladay's presence as a factor in his staying.
"That sends a message," manager Charlie Manuel said, "that we're going to keep our rotation together. We think we have three horses."
Halladay, who said he routinely tried to pry information from Hamels and attempted to sway his decision, echoed Manuel's statement.
"From the talks I've had with Ruben, I don't see why we can't," Halladay said. "It's different than a lot of teams. We can afford to carry some guys."
Hamels, the 17th overall pick in the 2002 draft, is now signed through 2018, when he will be 34. During spring training, the Phillies discussed a deal similar to the one Jered Weaver signed with the Los Angeles Angels - five years, $85 million. But once San Francisco's Matt Cain agreed to a six-year, $127.5 million extension on opening day, it became the benchmark.
During the season, Hamels delicately toed the line between wanting to stay and testing the market. A large crowd at Citizens Bank Park feted him with a standing ovation Saturday after what could have been his final start as a Phillie. Hamels waved to the crowd and said Wednesday that "really showed me something."
"That's what ultimately I'll always remember every time I go out there," Hamels said. "It really does mean a lot."
After that moment, Boggs said, the Phillies were more serious with the volume of their discussions and offers. Eventually, the negotiations resulted in Hamels' sneaking away from his teammates Tuesday night.
A few hours later, he departed the hospital and waited for confirmation of his new riches. First, he checked his phone. The Phillies had scored six runs in the eighth inning to win.
"I had no clue," Hamels said, and the man with a $144 million left arm considered it a fine omen.
Plenty of dough
Cole Hamels' salaries for each year of his six-year, $144 million contract. The contract includes a $6 million signing bonus.
2013 $19.5 million
2014 $22.5 million
2015 $22.5 million
2016 $22.5 million
2017 $22.5 million
2018 $22.5 million
2019* $24 million
* – Season vests if Hamels pitches 400 total innings in 2017 and 2018, pitches 200 innings in 2018, and does not end 2018 on the disabled list with an elbow or shoulder injury; or the Phillies can pick up the season at $20 million with a $6 million buyout.