There's nothing quite like competition to bring out the best in most professional athletes and for confirmation one need look no further than Cole Hamels. Don't think for one minute Hamels hasn't watched with keen interest as the Phillies pursue Roy Halladay. And don't think for one minute Hamels hasn't heard everyone and his grandmother say Halladay and Hamels would make a great one-two punch...in that order!
With decision time on a trade for Halladay a mere day or two away, Hamels pitched one of his best games of the season in limiting the Arizona D'backs to one run in eight innings. Only another nearly disastrous appearance by Brad Lidge made the final 4-3 score close.
Hamels has been the staff ace almost since his arrival two seasons ago. His triumphant run through the playoffs and World Series last year cemented his status as one of the game's bright young stars. For much of this season, however, he has lacked consistency, pitching well one outing and following many of those with equally bad starts. Observers worried he'd thrown too many innings last year. He worried he'd prepared for this season poorly, enjoying the trappings of his new fame too much. Nearly everyone worried he'd lost a little on his fastball and that batters were sitting on his change. He was basically a two-pitch hurler who resorted to his third pitch, the curve, rarely and often ineffectively.
Guys who want the ball with the game on the line don't like to hear all of those concerns openly expressed. They particularly don't like to hear the club is going to go out and get another pitcher who will take over the number one spot. Right now the best mid-season pickup may just be the rumor of Halladay's arrival. If rumor becomes reality, look for Hamels to step his game up another notch.