[Updated 5:40 p.m.]
The Nationals never had any doubt, from the moment Cole Hamels’s 93-mph fastball bored into Bryce Harper’s backside, that Hamels had done it on purpose. Afterward, in a statement that may earn him a fine and suspension, Hamels removed all ambiguity.
“I was trying to hit him,” Hamels said. “I’m not going to deny it. That’s just — you know what, it’s something that I grew up watching, that’s what happened, so I’m just trying to continue the old baseball — I think some people kind of get away from it. I remember when I was a rookie the strike zone was really, really small and you didn’t say anything just because that’s the way baseball is. Sometimes the league is protecting certain players and making it not that old-school, prestigious way of baseball.”
[In response, Major League Baseball announced Monday that Hamels has been suspended for five games.]
Hamels had no clear reason to hit Harper – “no clue,” Harper said. There was no incident over the weekend that would have given Hamels motivation to nail him. The Nationals’ take: The Phillies are worried about them, and Hamels’ beanball showed it.
“Usually it seems the Phillies aren’t that hyped up to come play us,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “I think that they realize that they needed to step up a little bit, and that’s nice. It’s nice to have that feeling where, ‘Hey, they’re intense over there.’ Usually when we play them, they’re not. I think that they realized that we’ve got a good ball club and they needed to kind of take it up a notch.”
Jordan Zimmermann responded in the third hitting by hitting Hamels, but he insisted it was not on purpose. His assertion is plausible.
Hamels was trying to sacrifice bunt with a man on first. Typically, intentional beanings don’t come when you can put a man into scoring position. Zimmermann hit Hamels in the leg, and it’s common for pitchers to try to make a bunting pitcher move their feet. If Zimmermann wanted to retaliate, he would have made the message more clear by hitting Hamels higher up. Finally, the proper retaliation probably would have been to hit Shane Victorino, the Phillies’ No. 3 hitter.
The Nationals ratcheted the intensity between the teams over Friday and Saturday, winning an extra-innings game and in a blowout to extend their winning streak over the Phillies to seven games. By hitting Harper, Hamles admitted a lopsided series had become a full-fledged rivalry.
“I think it could be a really good rivalry,” Hamels said. “We’re so close. Our fans can drive down, their fans can drive up. Their team is starting to peak into a really good competitive team. The Mets have gone the other direction and the Nationals have come up. It’s going to be really exciting to see — we have 15 more games against them and it’s going to be a really good series.”
The Nationals were walloped thanks to the Phillies’ six runs in the ninth inning. (“I think they were still worried,” Desmond said.) But the Nationals still won the series and ended the weekend in first place, while the Phillies headed back home in last.
“I think those guys know we’re here,” Chad Tracy said.