Saturday, May 13, 2006

Every Night A Different Hero

Cole Hamels’ major league debut may not have been exactly the Cy Young performance everyone was fantasizing about, but it certainly hinted at great things to come.

Five innings of one-hit ball with seven strike outs on the road in the cold and drizzle against a very good offensive club in a hitters’ park. As for those five walks he surrendered, three of them in one inning, even a veteran can overthrow the ball when his adrenaline is pumping overtime. The important thing here is that Hamels overcame them with no damage; in fact, he never acted like he was in trouble. No one can teach that!!

He shook off fellow rookie Carlos Ruiz more than a few times, a further indication Hamels had a plan. He worked very quickly, perhaps a little too quickly at times, but his pace can also be attributed to the other prevailing circumstances: friends and family hurried to Cincinnati from Southern California to witness his debut and cheer him on; the Phils had just seen Aaron Rowand literally sacrifice his body for the team the night before; the Mets were losing.

Hamels left after five innings when Charlie Manuel decided to pinch hit for him with the bases loaded and the Phils holding a 2 – 0 lead. No quibble here. Hamels had thrown a lot of pitches and the Phils had a chance to bust open the game. Abraham Nunez failed to deliver, however, and the next inning Hamels got a no-decision for his efforts as Ryan Madson imploded once again. More on that later.

After the game, Hamels spoke with and joked with reporters, his demeanor a far cry from that of fellow traveler Gavin Floyd. On and off the field, the kid is smooth. It’s just one start, but it was impressive.

Not so impressive was Ryan Madson, who was dropped from the rotation when Hamels arrived and returned to the set-up role he had filled the last two seasons. Madson was rocked for two home runs and looked appropriately shell-shocked on the bench afterwards. Going back to mid-season of last year, Madson has not been impressive. Hitters are sitting on his fastball, which has little or no movement on it. It just so happens that Madson was the pitcher of record when the Phils scored the go-ahead and eventual winning runs next inning so he gets the win despite pitching terribly. There oughta’ be a rule change about that.

Speaking of poor outings, Julio Santana was equally terrible in so-called relief, walking three batters and surrendering two earned runs in a third of an inning. This is the guy the Phillies retained instead of Geoff Geary on the sole basis that he had no options remaining and Geary did. Geary has to be upset about being demoted after pitching well recently including just two nights before against the Mets, the only guy by the way who acquitted himself well in the 13 – 4 shellacking they took. For their part, the Phils’ alleged brain trust continues to show a remarkable penchant for mishandling many of their pitchers. Right now I’d rather hand the ball to Geary than Madson. Santana wouldn’t even be an option, pun intended.

Ryan Franklin, Arthur Rhodes and Tom Gordon also appeared in the game and pitched extremely well. At least two of them should have had the night off if Madson and Santana did their jobs. But enough about the bullpen for now. Last night was Cole Hamels’ moment to shine and he did.

Last, but not least, Shane Victorino stepped in for Rowand and had a brilliant evening, going four for four with a home run and playing a terrific centerfield. It is worth noting the Phillies continue to win even with their starting catcher and centerfielder on the DL. In the past, those losses would almost certainly have proven crippling, but this club appears to be different as every night a different hero emerges en route to their eleventh win in twelve outings.

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