At the moment Jordan Zimmermann hit Cole Hamels on Sunday night, I didn’t think he had done it on purpose. Most people in the baseball world, up to and including Cal Ripken, thought he had. Zimmermann said afterward it was unintentional. I believed him, but few others did, and I felt a little naïve.
After asking around, I’m now actually quite sure of it: Zimmermann did not hit Hamels on purpose. I figured I’d let the point go, but Steinberg went and transcribed an MLB Network Radio interview with Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel, who said he doesn’t buy Zimmermann’s denial. Here’s why he should:
1. Zimmermann did not want the tying the run in scoring position. Winning the game always takes precedence over drilling hitters. And, especially with the Nationals’ offense, putting the tying run on second base puts your chances to win in greater danger.
2. If Zimmermann wanted to hit Hamels, he would not have hit him in the leg. He would have hit him in the ribs or the backside. Pitchers will often dust off a player who is trying to sacrifice bunt in order to disrupt the bunt, not to intentionally hit him. Trying to move Hamels’ feet — and pulling a fastball too far in the process — is completely plausible.
3. This is the most important factor, the smoking gun: You do not retaliate for one of your players getting hit by hitting the pitcher. The whole point is to get Shane Victorino or Hunter Pence or some other veteran Phillie to walk up to Hamels in the dugout or on the team plane and say, “Hey, Cole, knock it off, so I stop getting hit.” When baseball players talk about “policing themselves,” that’s what they mean.
Hitting Hamels is actually letting him off the hook in that regard. I believe Zimmermann was surely going to hit a batter in response to Bryce Harper’s plunking. He just lost that chance when he hit Hamels.
And now, yeah, it’s time to let it go.