Hereby Hangs a Tale: Cole Hamels vs. the Mets, 2009-11

Thanks to his own fine work on the mound and a late rally by his teammates, Cole Hamels picked up his seventh victory of the season Saturday night on the strength of seven innings of two-run, ten-strikeout ball. The win, which tied Hamels for the major-league lead, was only Cole’s third in 15 career starts against the division rival New York Mets. His 3-9 career mark against them is by far his worst against any opponent, though his 4.22 ERA isn’t exactly in Adam Eaton territory.

Given all else that's befallen the Mets over the last few seasons, it's hard to begrudge them this bit of unlikely success against one high-profile star of  hated rival. And to be totally fair, the Mets have had extra motivation to stick it to Hamels on the field ever since he stuck it to them on the radio, back in December 2008:

In an interview on New York sports talk station WFAN on Thursday, Hamels, the World Series MVP, responded in the affirmative when asked if he thought the Mets were "choke artists."

"Last year and this year I think we did believe that [they were choke artists]," Hamels told the station, alluding to the Phillies winning the NL East in 2008 and '07, in part, with the help of back-to-back September collapses by New York. "Three years ago we didn't because they smoked everybody, and I think we all thought they were going to win it all. Unfortunately that didn't happen […] that's kind of what we believed and I think we're always going to believe that until they prove us wrong," Hamels said. "For the past two years they've been choke artists."

There’s rubbing salt in a wound, and then there’s filling an industrial tanker up with sodium chloride and dumping it on a surgery patient before he’s been closed back up. (In the Mets’ case, we can assume it was heart surgery.) That the words came from Hamels, then the newly crowned World Series MVP—and, to make matters even worse, the Phillies’ closest analogue to Scott Kazmir, a onetime Mets farmhand traded in an inexplicably horrible deal several years earlier who’d also reached the 2008 World Series as the ace of the Tampa Bay Rays—made them all the more unendurable.

It is at least arguable that the baseball gods noticed this slight, and were not amused. Hubris generally doesn’t play well in that league.

Meanwhile on Earth, the Mets couldn’t take away the Phillies’ world championship or Hamels’ NLCS and World Series MVP honors, but they could knock him around when they saw him. Their first chance came on June 10, 2009, when Hamels took the mound at Citi Field and struggled through five innings of a no-decision in a game the Phillies ultimately won 5-4 in 11 innings. Hamels threw 100 pitches, allowing 11 hits and four runs with just one strikeout. He left trailing 4-1, but three late runs got him off the hook. Two and a half months later, Hamels started against the Mets again in Queens, and again allowed four runs in five arduous innings; this time the offense didn’t rally, and he took in the loss in a 4-2 defeat. Hamels saw the Mets one more time in 2009, at Citizens Bank Park on Sept. 11, and earned the win against them with 6.2 innings of one-run ball.  He’d win one more time in ’09, in his next start against the Nationals, before three straight subpar starts to finish the regular season and a playoff campaign almost as dismal as his previous one had been brilliant.

The Mets remained a thorn in Hamels’ side through his superb rebound season of 2010, as he put up an 0-4 record against them despite a fine 3.20 ERA. It was Cole’s misfortune to start the last of the three "shutout-sweep" losses of late May, a 3-0 defeat in which he worked 6.2 innings and allowed three runs, two earned. Then in August, Hamels lost consecutive 1-0 decisions to New York on the 7th and 13th despite a combined line of 15 innings pitched, two runs, 11 hits, two walks and 19 strikeouts. In the second 1-0 defeat, Hamels had the Phillies’ only hit against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

To recap: in three starts against the Mets to this point in 2010, the Phillies had scored exactly zero runs in support of Hamels. Cole might have thought, going into his final start of the season against New York at CBP on Sept. 26, that since outstanding pitching hadn’t done much for him, another approach might be worth a try. Unfortunately, lousy pitching didn’t lead to a win either: he surrendered five runs in four innings in the Phils’ 7-3 loss. 

His first start against the Mets in 2011, which doubled as his season debut, was considerably worse. After two scoreless innings, Hamels didn’t make it out of the third as six Mets crossed the plate. Opposing starter Chris Young began the frame with a single, and after New York batted around, he ended Hamels’ night with another single. The game dropped Hamels’ record against the Mets since he’d gone on WFAN to 1-6 in eight starts.

Did Saturday’s win—which, to be fair, was Cole’s third excellent start against the Mets in his last five, dating back to August—break the hex? Who knows. But I would guess it’s a safe bet the youngest of the Phillies’ four aces won’t be back on the radio trash-talking an opponent anytime soon. 

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