PHILADELPHIA — The last time Cole Hamels stood on a mound and stared in at the Washington Nationals’ lineup, he had something to say.
He did so with a fastball into Bryce Harper’s lower back. Harper stole home; the Phillies won. Then Hamels spouted off post-game about “old-school baseball” and how he felt it was his place to show Harper what it was all about.
Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park the message Hamels delivered was different. Perhaps humbled by the backlash he’s received in the last two-and-a-half weeks, Hamels didn’t talk with purpose pitches, he just silenced the Nationals with all of them.
Using all four of his pitches liberally, Hamels beat the Nationals to death with his changeup. The result was a 4-1 loss for Washington and the ninth failed attempt at a series sweep.
“They made plays; we didn’t,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who lauded starter Edwin Jackson (seven innings, three earned runs) for throwing “a damn good ballgame,” and lamented his team’s squandered opportunities. “We just got a good-pitched game against us. Tip your hat to him. He’s done that to quite a few people.”
This time, there were no fireworks. No back-and-forth between the teams, on the field or off of it.
“I don’t think anybody really cares about it anymore,” Harper said. There was just a baseball game to be played.”
It was one Hamels, who improved to 7-1, dominated.
“He had his stuff tonight,” said second baseman Danny Espinosa, who broke up Hamels’ no-hit bid with one out in the fifth, slapping a double to left field. “Everything was on. He was throwing his fastball either for a strike on the corner or he was just barely off. Throwing a good cutter. He just had everything going.
“When he’s throwing 93-95 [mph] and has got that cutter working, his changeup can be devastating.”
But it was after Espinosa’s double that the Nats missed their shot of breaking through. Harper sent a single to right field one batter later and Espinosa was waved home by third base coach Bo Porter.
The throw to home plate from Hunter Pence was up the third base line ever so slightly, and Espinosa’s slide was slowed by catcher Carlos Ruiz’s left leg. He was out. Ryan Zimmerman slapped a single to right two pitches later. The Nationals could see the run they had lost.
It was the one sequence the manager regretted most, particularly Harper not advancing to second on the throw. Harper said first base coach Trent Jewett told him not to go.
“I don’t second-guess Bo,” Johnson said. “I’d rather know whether he’s going to be out or not rather than hold him up. It took a heck of a play.”
“[Pence] has a funky arm, but he has a good one,” Harper said. “He made a great throw, an accurate throw, a perfect throw. And there’s nothing you do about it. Zim comes up and gets a base hit that next [at-bat], that kind of sucked right there. But that’s just how it rolled tonight.”
Hamels ended up tossing eight scoreless innings, allowing four hits, three walks and striking out eight. Adam LaRoche’s ninth-inning solo homer off Jonathan Papelbon was the Nationals’ only run of the night.
“He was funky tonight,” Harper said of Hamels. “He had some good stuff going. He’s one the best pitchers in baseball. He’s 7-1 for a reason. There’s nothing we can do about it. Hopefully we can get him next time.”
“Last two times we faced him he’s pitched really well,” Espinosa said. “We’ll just continue to battle him. He’ll have an off day.”
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Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.
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