Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cole Hamels No-Hit Heaven

On a perfect midsummer Saturday afternoon in the friendly confines of venerable Wrigley Field in Chicago, Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels tossed the 13th no-hitter in the history of the franchise, beating the hosts 5-0.
Hamels was coming off the worst back-to-back starts in his glorious career, and there were many questions about the ace lefty coming into this all-important start, as Ryan Gerstel at TBOH explored prior to the outing.
The Phillies longtime fan favorite, one of the last remnants of the 2008 World Series champions and 'Glory Era' team of the last decade, answered every one of those questions positively and emphatically.
Hamels (6-7) threw 129 pitches, 83 of them for strikes, and he had everything working today. 
His fastball was consistently in the 94-96 mph range, as strong as it has been in some time. His slider was a bit erratic, but just enough to also be effective. And his curveball was working as well as we've seen it.
It all added up to a near-impossible situation for the Cubbies talented but young lineup. Only centerfielder and leadoff man Dexter Fowler, who drew a walk to leadoff the bottom of the first, and another with two outs in the 6th, stood between Hamels and perfection on this day.
"Nothing will top winning a World Series," said Hamels following the game, "but this is right under it."
Hamels was actually part of a no-hitter before in his career. On September 1st of last season, Hamels and a trio of Phillies relievers recorded the first combined no-hitter in franchise history. This time, the 10-year veteran finished what he started.
He had some help, of course, and two of the biggest pieces were two of his old 2008 champion buddies. 
Carlos Ruiz caught his MLB-record tying 4th career no-hitter. Ryan Howard delivered the game's key hit, ripping a 3-run homer in the top of the 3rd to give the Phillies a 3-0 lead.
The blast off Cubs' starter Jake Arrieta was setup by a two-out rally that began with a double off the bat of Odubel Herrera, who would later factor heavily with his glove, and a walk by Maikel Franco.
Arrieta (11-5) didn't pitch badly. The subject of a preview piece prior to the series at TBOH by Tyler DiSalle, the righthander went six innings and allowed six hits, striking out eight and walking three Phils batters.
In the 8th, a 4-hit rally against Cubs' reliever James Russell produced a pair of important insurance runs for Hamels. 
With one out, Cody Asche singled, and came around to score on an RBI double from Freddy Galvis, who then scored himself on a wild throw by Chicago 1st baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Hamels himself lined a double to left center later in the inning, and had to do a bit of base running when Cesar Hernandez followed with a single. When both men were left stranded, the hope was that Hamels didn't wear himself out.
That was when I wandered into the picture, risking the jinx. 
Following Howard's homer, I had spent the day outside, enjoying a summer afternoon in our backyard with my wife. I checked on the game later, and saw that Hamels had the no-hitter going entering the 7th.
At that point, I had a decision to make. Should I stay out in the backyard, ignoring the game, or risk the jinx and go in to watch. I held out for one more inning, but entering the 8th it was just too hard to stay away.
With one out in the bottom of the 8th, Herrera came up with the first of two defensive gems. 
David Ross shot a ball deep into the left centerfield gap that looked like a sure double. But Herrera came charging back and into that gap, running down the ball for the 2nd out. It was a particularly impressive play when you consider that this has been his first season playing the outfield.
The game moved into the bottom of the 9th with the Phils still leading 5-0. Hamels got Addison Russell to ground between short and 3rd, where Franco made a sweet play to cut the ball off and gun him down for the first out. Then on a 1-2 pitch, Hamels froze Fowler with a perfect fastball. Two outs.
Jul 25, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Hamels (35) is doused with water after throwing no hitter against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Phillies defeated the Cubs 5-0. (Photo Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports)
That set the stage for the final drama. One more batter to history. 
Hamels battled Cubs' rookie All-Star slugger Kris Bryant to a full count. Then the lefty made perhaps his worst pitch of the game. He hung a breaking ball that Bryant drove to deep center. 
Off the bat, it looked like it had a chance to go out, and maybe on another day at Wrigley it would have.
When the ball went up into the air, Herrera instinctively broke back on it. But then the wind began to knock the ball back, ever so slowly, but just enough for the Phillies purposes of keeping it in the yard. 
Herrera was forced to suddenly adjust, having over-run the ball based on that original flight path.
Herrera quickly lunged forward as the ball dove down right in front of him, his glove shooting out to try for the catch as he slipped down on the dirt of the warning track. 
Just before it hit that dirt, Herrera snatched the ball in his glove. Every Phillies fan watching let out a yell as he came up with it.
On the mound, Hamels immediately had reacted as if he expected to have given up a homer, but then turned and saw that Herrera had a chance. 
When the stumbling catch was finally complete, his no-hitter and place in history secure, Hamels finally let out a big smile as he was embraced by Howard and Ruiz before being mobbed by the rest of the team.
The no-hitter marked the first time in a half-century that the Cubs had been victimized by one. You have to go all the way back to the legendary lefty Sandy Koufax on September 9th, 1965. 
There had not been a no-hitter tossed at Wrigley Field since the Cubs' Milt Pappas did it, losing a Perfect Game on a 2-out, full-count walk back on September 2nd, 1972.
There is a possibility that this was the final start of Hamels' career with the Phillies. With the MLB non-waiver trade deadline coming next Friday at 4pm EDT, the next scheduled start for the lefty would come on either Thursday or Friday.
Had this been a less-than-stellar outing, the Phils surely would have given him the start on Thursday, hoping to give him one last chance prior to that deadline to show his stuff. 
Now the odds probably lean towards them holding him back until Friday, and letting this stand as the final reminder to interested teams of just what they could be obtaining. Stay tuned.

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