Before Cole Hamels went to bed last night, his next start staring him in the face, he knew that he was now a member of a three-man rotation for all intents and purposes. That's a wild notion, let alone reality, and quite a burden on a young pitcher. No one knows how long these thoughts kept Hamels awake last night, but when he stepped off the mound after eight innings of one-hit ball against the streaking St. Louis Cardinals, he appeared like he'd had the best night of sleep in his life.
It was a performance that should've guaranteed a win for the Phillies, but like so many similar performances this season, they gave Hamels nothing and kept all of us biting our nails. To be fair, the Phillies were facing an elite pitcher in Adam Wainwright, but they hit him all game. He admitted afterward that he didn't have his best stuff, but no pitcher has really needed his best stuff against Philadelphia over the last two months.
As the game moved into extra innings, I still couldn't see this falling the Phillies' way, despite how lost the Cardinals looked at the plate. The game was in St. Louis and the momentum still seemed to fall on the home team's side.
It turned out that nine innings of just one hit were too many beatings on the confidence, and Placido Polanco was due to hit one out. Even after his shot, the Phillies managed to string enough baserunners together to tack on another run. The swing on Jayson Werth's RBI double carried the awkwardness of a man whose name had never been thrown around so much for all the wrong reasons, and who had previously been 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position, but it got the job done. How ironic it would be if this was the win that finally led to the right track for a team Werth might not even be a part of by next week.
I will not make such a claim yet, however. Even the worst teams in baseball don't lose all of their games, and Philadelphia has lost four of its last five series, making an anomaly out of that sweep of the Reds before the All-Star Break. Past experience also suggests that the Phillies were supposed to win this game. The two previous times they fell to two games over .500 this season, they won their next game to avoid a complete collapse. It's almost like the Phils are playing Russian Roulette with their season and they haven't yet pulled the trigger with the bullet in the chamber.
The team is hoping that a new starting pitcher will remove the bullet altogether, but I'm not convinced such a move will sweep in drastic changes. Just looking at the past couple of years, top-notch arms that were traded mid-season went to teams that were already playing well. When CC Sabathia was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in July 2008, they were sitting in second place nine games above .500 and just 3.5 back in the NL Central. The Phillies weren't far removed from a 10-game winning streak and had a six-game lead in the NL East when they picked up Cliff Lee last year.
The Phils aren't in the midst of a run this time around, and the arms available aren't of the caliber of Lee or Sabathia. They can't even score runs for the two aces they already have.
But there is good news. Philadelphia finally returns home after nearly two weeks, and after a 2-6 road trip, is somehow in second place. The Phillies sport an encouraging 27-18 record at Citizens Bank Park, and their recent victory, the roar of the home crowd and the sight of the Liberty Bell in right center have to stir up some optimism. The Phillies need all they can get right now, because there's a real possibility with the maximized budget and tight grip on the few prospects they have left that no new pitcher will don the pinstripes before July 31.