A sparkling sprite materializes next to Cole Hamels' sleeping form at sunrise.
PLAYOFF FAIRY: G'morning, Cole! Today's the day you pitch in the playoffs again, and I'm here to--
[Jarred awake, Cole comes to and screams, swatting at Playoff Fairy with his pillow, which Playoff Fairy deftly avoids.]
PLAYOFF FAIRY: Whoa now, I'm just here to--
[Cole rolls to the other side of the bed, reaching for pistol in his bedside table drawer.]
PLAYOFF FAIRY: WHOA WHOA WHOA, EASY, EASY!!
[A tense moment passes.]
PLAYOFF FAIRY: I'm just here to take you on a journey to the past to visit all your previous post season starts in commemoration of your 14th playoff start in your 11th playoff series!
[Cole, still confused, eases up slightly. Playoff Fairy lowers his hands.]
PLAYOFF FAIRY: ...Christ.
Wow, look at you! So young! And the hair! Did you know that wasn't just your first start ever in the playoffs, it was your first time starting against the Rockies? You were just a 23-year-old rascal, second in line to the staff's true ace, Brett Myers.
I hear he has a country music album out now. I hear it has a song called "Kegerator" on it. When's your album coming out, Cole? Oh, right - Never, because you're too busy still starting games in the playoffs.
Well Chase, Jimmy, and Ryan didn't help you too much that day, going 0-for-11 with eight strikeouts. You can only do so much: 6.2 innings is a good start, and you only allowed three runs (and three hits). But that run support... well, you know. You can't blame one of the league's most exciting young offenses for getting stifled by Jeff Francis, a guy who had a 15.12 ERA against them in the regular season. No wonder you left Philadelphia eight years later.
Ah, yes. The season of dreams. A season like that can really change a man, you know? Not just change who he is going forward, but basically nullify any atrocities he may have committed in the past. Isn't that right? Not that I'm saying you have committed any, Cole. That I know of. Ha ha ha. I know what you're thinking - "Is he omnipotent? Does he know all my darkest secrets?" I'll never tell! Ha ha. We're having a fun time.
You threw eight shutout innings against the Brewers for an appetizer before moving on to the main course in L.A. But Lidge almost ruined everything in the ninth, the candy-ass. The first 14 Milwaukee at-bats, no one can touch you, you strike out nine, and then he comes in and gives up a run, destroying your perfect day. You wanted to punch him, didn't you. You wanted to punch him in is extremely friendly, smiling face. Admit it, Cole.
Fine, don't admit it. I'm not omnipotent, I won't know - or will I? Ha ha. Just messing with you.
Then, it was the Dodgers, and the three earned runs they managed to squeak off you through two starts. Bunch a cheaters, that crew. Did you know that? Yeah, it turns out they kill drifters to appease their gods of sloth and debauchery. Can't believe no one's writing about it, honestly. But you sure showed them in '08, Cole.
Look at you go!
Oh my god! You totally get to face Russell Martin again today! Do you think he'll throw a furious shit-fit in the dugout again when he can't comprehend your change-up? Nah, he's grown up. He's older. Maybe, though. Better throw it non-stop just in case.
Then there were 13 more impenetrable innings against the Rays in the World Series. You were a monster that year, Cole. A terrifying baseball monster.
You finished that post season having thrown 35 innings, with 30 strikeouts, nine walks, seven earned runs, a 1.80 ERA, two MVP awards, and three teams stricken with trauma from having faced you and being permitted to live. What a year.
[Fast forwarding through a lot of Cliff Lee stuff]
Man alive, he was good. Look how lackadaisical of a catch that was!
Uh, you were good too that year. You were fine. You were on the team, right? No, I know. I know you... uh, were.
All right, 2010! Cliff Lee out, Roy Halladay in! A new start! That whole narrative about you tanking in '09 because you went on too many talk shows is gone! No more putting too much pressure on yourself to throw no-hitters! You just went out there with the simple intention of making the Reds look bad.
Never mind that Halladay threw a no-hitter two games before, that... there was nothing you could do about that. You guys were teammates. It was a good thing.
Anyway, if it was bugging you, you didn't show it - a five-hit, complete game shutout of one of the league's most powerful offenses at the time, with nine strikeouts and plenty of Brandon Phillips' sad, sad face. It was a hell of a statement; so much so that people barely brought up how much of a lull you hit the previous year.
"In dispatching the Reds, Cole Hamels looked like the untouchable version of himself from the 2008 postseason and nothing like the man who slogged through a rough October a year ago."
Ha ha, just kidding. It was all they could talk about. But you showed them.
Then, well. Then came the Giants. I'll be honest, Cole, even for me, a fairy who may or may not have been alive forever, that series was tough to watch. Nobody I knew - and I travel in some pretty messed up circles - even understood what was going on in that series.
I mean, Cody Ross? If he had a demon inside of him, I think I would have known. I know a ton of demons, but even they think Cody Ross sucks. But, here we are.
Ah, well. You know you can take solace in the fact that nobody else, even Halladay, was extremely effective against that stupid lineup. And at least you didn't piss your pants on the mound like Jonathan Sanchez.
You only got one shot at the Cardinals in the NLDS that year, but you let them have less runs than Cliff Lee. After his five-run meltdown in Game Two, you had to go out there and pick up the pieces as the series moved to St. Louis. No easy task, as you recall, but you didn't let them score a single run over six innings, striking out eight and allowing five hits and three walks.
The Phillies sent Vance Worley out there - I don't remember this at all - afterward and he gave up a run, and Ryan Madson let them cut the deficit in the ninth, but as was the case so many times back then, Ben Francisco had - pinch hitting for you, I might point out - saved the day with some classic "reserve outfielder" heroics.
He would have gone down in Phillies history alongside Matt Stairs as far as clutch playoff home runs go, if you guys had, you know. Won the series.
Anyway, there's a wealth of wonderful memories there, and I thought you could use a quick review of them before heading out to the mound toda--
[A GUNSHOT rings out and Playoff Fairy flies backward into the wall before sliding to the ground. A hotel employee standing behind a breakfast cart is nearby, the door to the room open behind him. He is holding the gun Cole couldn't reach, hands shaking, pistol smoking. He and Cole exchange understanding nods - not understanding the things they've seen here today, but understanding there's no turning back now.]
COLE HAMELS: Looks like I'll have to pitch my way out of another atrocity.
PLAYOFF FAIRY: [Dying] I... knew it.... [Dies]