WASHINGTON — He had already said enough, but this, he would not admit. When, exactly, did Cole Hamels decide he would fire a fastball at Bryce Harper's back?
"I'm not going to tell you that one," Hamels said. He laughed. "Sorry."
The lanky lefthander said he was not responding to the Nationals having asserted themselves with two straight victories to begin this hyped weekend series. That, he said, would have required a lot more work.
"If I was getting back for our side I think I'd have to drill quite a few people because you're in their home ballpark," Hamels said. "It's just, 'Welcome to the big leagues.'"
He had alluded to hitting Harper on purpose, but not completely. But Hamels allowed only one run Sunday and it was Harper, who stole home after being plunked. He was pristine for the rest of the night, another clip on the ever-extending file as he prepares for a mega payday in free agency.
Then, finally, when asked what his intent specifically was with the 93-m.p.h. fastball so accurately placed, Hamels decided he would send another message. He could face punishment for it.
"I was trying to hit him," Hamels said. "I'm not going to deny it. That's just — you know what, it's something that I grew up watching, that's what happened, so I'm just trying to continue the old baseball. I think some people kind of get away from it. I remember when I was a rookie, the strike zone was really really small and you didn't say anything just because that's the way baseball is. Sometimes the league is protecting certain players and making it not that old-school, prestigious way of baseball."
Hamels made it clear he was not attempting to injure Harper. "I think they understood the message and they threw it right back," Hamels said. Nationals righthander Jordan Zimmermann later denied to Washington reporters he had struck Hamels intentionally with a pitch in the third. He, too, could be suspended.
"I mean, he was bunting and I'm going to take an out when I can get an out," Zimmermann said. "I was trying to go away and just cut a fastball really, really bad and unfortunately hit him in the knee."
That's when warnings were formally issued to each bench. There were no ejections. But Hamels stands to be suspended because he tacitly admitted to hitting another player. Major League Baseball tends to frown upon such actions — even when the player steadfastly denies his intentions.
There are few recent instances when a pitcher admits to throwing at a player. The lone example from the past five years is when Chicago's Bobby Jenks said he was throwing behind Texas' Ian Kinsler in 2009.
"I meant to," Jenks said then. "To send a message. Basically I was saying, 'I'm sick of seeing our guys get hit and hurt and almost get taken out of the game.' I threw it with intention."
The pitcher was fined $750 and not suspended, which surprised him at the time.
In 2008, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended two games for saying he had ordered pitchers to intentionally hit batters.
Charlie Manuel was not as brash as Hamels.
"It looked to me like he was trying to come up and in on him and he hit him," Manuel said. "That's what I saw."
His pitcher said much, much more. The Nationals certainly noticed. It's likely the commissioner's office will too.