By Sam Bush
Cole Hamels is the best pitcher the Phillies have drafted and elevated to the majors in a long time.
And even Hamels found a new way to lose yesterday.
Hamels’ first balk since 2012 proved to be the difference as Philly couldn’t finish off its second straight sweep of Washington, dropping a 3-2 decision on Sunday at Nationals Park despite another solid pitching performance from its ace.
“No, but I know I’ve lost some pretty weird games,” Hamels said when asked if he’s ever suffered a loss by balk. “It’s unfortunate.”
In the sixth inning of a 2-2 contest, Hamels (8-7) allowed a one-out double to Washington’s Ian Desmond. As Hamels attempted to keep the speedy Desmond close to the bag, first-base umpire Chad Fairchild called a balk, allowing Desmond to move up to third.
“[Fairchild] said that I hitched twice,” Hamels said. “That I came up and then turned, but I think that he was just looking at my back foot as opposed to my front leg, because it was continuing the whole time. When I spin, my cleat sometimes gets caught, so it causes kind of like a jump. I’ll keep doing what I can do. If they keep calling it, then, obviously, I guess I have a problem. I didn’t think it was a balk. It’s a first. I’ve been doing the same move since I’ve gotten to the big leagues.”
Scott Hairston delivered a sacrifice fly to deep left field to bring in Desmond and give the Nationals a 3-2 advantage that would stand up.
“I got lucky with Hairston not hitting a homer, because I know that would have been 85 rows deep at our field,” Hamels said. “But the pitch to Desmond was a bad pitch. It was up, and if I would have been able to at least get it down, it would have been a groundout right to the third baseman. That’s the pitch, right there. I guess if it didn’t happen, we might still be playing.”
In 6 1/3 innings, Hamels allowed three runs on seven hits while striking out seven — the 19th straight start he has allowed three earned runs or fewer. But some errant command, which led to two home runs by Washington first baseman Adam LaRoche, and the balk prevented him from having a shot at picking up his 16th career victory against the Nats.
“Cole wasn’t as sharp with his command and just controlling the ball,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “And then the balk kind of came into play. It was a questionable call. He does that often.”
The Phillies attempted to rally in the eighth, as pinch-hitter Ben Revere opened the inning with a single off reliever Tyler Clippard. Revere appeared to steal second and was ruled safe, but Nationals manager Matt Williams successfully had the called overturned via challenge to thwart the comeback attempt.