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Retracing Cole Hamels' steps through his woesome 2009 season

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In the middle of a stellar career, Cole Hamels logged a wonky season, which is of course the one on which we will zero in today.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

It was October 2009, and we were all a little tired.

I was exhausted from being a young, single adult with a college degree in the big city. What couldn't I accomplish from my apartment in a terrifying neighborhood? The possibilities were limitless, to the point that simply considering the vast and open future was enough to send me back to bed.

But Cole Hamels didn't share my concerns - though he did share my fatigue. Pitching in the World Series after a down year, he was having a rough go of things despite his team's success. He turned to the people for sympathy after a treacherous Game 3, and he did not receive it.

"I can't wait for it to end. It's been mentally draining. At year's end, you just can't wait for a fresh start."

--Cole Hamels

Quit? QUIT?! YOU DON'T QUIT ON PHILADELPHIA.

Well, we quit coming to games when the team is bad. And we quit on each other, a lot. We quit our jobs. We quit when things get hard. We quit when things hurt. I mean, it's a city full of people, not invulnerable superhumans. There's no special vitamin in the Philadelphia water that makes the people extra-tough. In fact there's probably some horrific toxins in there making us weaker.

Nevertheless, people broke their fingers dialing obsolete rotary phones to have their voice heard on talk radio. They learned how to use their computers so they could leave vicious, misinformed comments on the internet. And if you stopped any of them on the street? After taking a few swings at you - a "Philadelphia how-ya-do" - they'd tell you exactly what they thought of that quitter Cole Hamels.

Never mind the bright future of the skinny prospect drafted in 2002; never mind that he was a part of a rotation that helped take the Phillies to their first playoff appearance since 1993 two years before; never mind the World Series championship and the MVP award he'd won in 2008. That was all gone now. The angry mob had descended on the city's archives and burned all evidence that it had ever happened.

Cole Hamels had brought this city everything it had asked for in 2008: a sports championship, the first to arrive within city limits in a quarter century. Suddenly - or, over the course of a year, or whatever - Hamels was showing some wear and tear. And that is, of course, unforgivable.

fabulous

As he prepares rigorously for a season as the world champions' ace, Hamels has at last fulfilled his "Hollywood" nickname. The transformation of nerdy-voiced Colbert Richard Hamels into cool Cole Hamels is complete.

--Frank Fitzpatrick, Inquirer

Up high in his pure white, sterilized palace atop the Philadelphia skyline, Cole Hamels clutched his wife's stomach with passion. He was a celebrity now - not just a Philadelphia celebrity; a real one, and by 2009, he and his celebrity wife were expecting a child.

The growing fetus inside his wife would be a distraction to any new father, but Hamels, pulled in a lot of directions by his newfound fame, had even more on his mind. As he would later admit, was trying to do too much - having already conquered one of baseball's stages, he now wanted the no-hitters, the perfect games, and he had to do it now, because he was still young and this is baseball, a sport in which player's arms detach and sneak away in the night.

Coming out of spring training, Hamels' 2009 story was to begin on opening day, when Charlie Manuel announced his ace would get the start. But by March 16, Hamels left spring training after a bout of "tightness" between pitches and headed back to Philadelphia for an examination from Dr. Michael Ciccotti; the appointment was briefly delayed while Philadelphia was burned down by panicking fans and then rebuilt over the course of a few days.

"Things happen that you don't expect," Hamels told Men's Health later about his injury. "If you're not prepared, you're going to look really bad."

Sadly for Hamels, things he didn't expect continued to happen. He left a start in April with a left shoulder issue, and then left another one with an ankle sprain. Baseball was taking pot shots at our boy, derailing his plans to dominate from day one. That month he allowed 27 hits and 14 runs in 17.1 innings and two starts. The beginning of the season was a disaster. He wasn't getting any calls. He wasn't catching any breaks. His body hurt. The sexy circle change he'd relied on for so long stopped fooling people. His friends took turns kicking him in the ribs while he slept. The same family of raccoons was sneaking into his luxury apartment every night and making a mess, and Heidi kept blaming him.

"Damn it Cole! I told you, stop tearing up the couch and having babies inside it!" she'd yell at her flustered husband in the morning.

As time wore on, the frustration began to manifest itself more outwardly.

In July, he built a 4.38 ERA for the month over six starts. He was more "Hollywood" than "Hamels" at times, like when he put a dog in a backpack and carried it around, or when his wife appeared on E! True Hollywood Stories. At this point, Philadelphia sensed vulnerability, and the weirdly angry, talentless masses gathered.

This is from a terrifically awful post on Bleacher Report where a guy just, like, says he doesn't like Cole Hamels for a while. And that's it, that's the whole thing:

Cole Hamels thinks his shit smells like Cinnamon Sticks. He thinks he is God's gift to baseball. I've really always had a problem with his "Me" first attitude that comes off. He reminds me of Arod in interviews.....just spewing Bullshits in between a billion "Ya Know".

"Cole Hamels sucks now" was accepted as gospel, despite June actually being something of a turnaround month for him, as he started spinning CGSOs, saw an uptick in strikeouts, and eventually didn't allow a run from August 21 to September 6. But the media had already written the narrative, and the fans were already settled into their sentiments. They didn't care why he was struggling; they didn't even care that he had stopped struggling. They just knew that he wasn't reliable enough to bring this city the second World Series title in two years it deserved - suddenly "Just give me one before I die" had become "I said 'one' before but what I actually need is World Serieses forever until I am dead."

The Phillies gave him some back-up later in the year, taking pressure off his weary shoulders. The acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez shut people up for a while. Attention went from savaging Cole Hamels to lavishing Lee, who became so popular Ruben Amaro put a deal in place to trade and reacquire him just to thrill people.

Even though he'd bounced back slightly, any poor start was considered to be evidence of Hamels' further demise. Several months and 58 earned runs later, he had an epiphany after a defeat at the hands of the Braves, who really seemed to have his number that year - Hamels would throw 16 innings against Atlanta that year over three starts and allow 11 ER.

"I got whupped that night," Hamels said. "And the next morning was finally where I was like, 'OK, you really need to forget about things, start the season over, and get back to the person you know you are.' I realized that if I want to give this team a chance, if I want to give myself a chance, I am going to have to make some changes."

--Andy Martino, Inquirer

In the end, yeah, it was the worst season of Hamels' career. But it was also only the fourth season of Hamels' career. Conclusions were being drawn for an ace in his infancy. He limped through the post season, earning a win in the NLCS against the Dodgers, but it was Lee who anchored the pitching staff at this point (His Game 1 start against the Yankees in the World Series set a tone the series outcome did not reflect).

By the time Hamels went on the radio that fateful October day, the Phillies were down two games to one in the World Series. He had just pitched the night before and couldn't hold a 3-0 lead, giving up five runs in 4.1 innings, some of which were to Alex Rodriguez, so they counted double. Even Chase Utley hitting home runs every 20 minutes wasn't enough to dig him out of that hole.

The fallout from his interview was hysterics. Brett Myers reportedly made some comments at Hamels and the two had to be separated; Myers later said they were best friends and everything was fine. Whatever. Hamels knew he had misspoken and had even more stress applied to his frayed nerves.

"Sometimes I might not say the best things or the smartest things, but I've learned and am learning," Hamels said. "I wasn't able to sleep the past couple of nights because of it."

Hamels wasn't the first star athlete to have the people turn on him after a down year, and he won't be the last. It happens in sports; for some reason, fans get it in their heads that a good player will never be bad and a bad player could never turn it around. It's flawed thinking, but it's the mindset of fans who don't necessarily want to think, they just want to be pleased, or better yet, they just want to complain. People have a way of building up their star athletes into mythic titans, as if they can absorb a hit, swallow emotion, forget outside troubles, and play to the highest of their abilities at a moment's notice. In truth, they are an intricate set of organs and nerves wrapped in soft flesh just like the rest of us, having the same deeply emotional human experience through which all of us are barely making it. Except, we don't have to play baseball.

Hamels set the bar high in 2008, and continued to do so through many subsequent seasons, but he went through a learning experience in 2009 and the city went on one along with him. The only difference was, it didn't actually learn anything.