They were cruising.
Cole Hamels, the Phillies -- everybody.
Then came a close 3-2 fastball down and in that home plate umpire Brian Gorman called a ball, putting Mark Teixeira on base with a walk. Up to that point, Hamels had been lights out. He'd retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced, allowed no hits, and been staked to a 3-0 lead by an offense that took advantage of Andy Pettitte's lack of control. One inning later, the Yankees led 5-3, Hamels was out of the game, and the sell-out crowd of 46,000-plus was attempting to digest what exactly it had just witnessed.
Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run home run -- initially called a double but ruled a home run after replays showed it striking a camera that was out of play -- on a fastball that Hamels threw right down the middle. Hamels retired the next two batters he faced, escaping the inning with a 3-2 lead. But in the fifth, things spiralled out of control. Nick Swisher hit a 2-2 curveball for a double. After striking out Melky Cabrera, Hamels then threw a first-pitch curveball to Pettitte, who singled into center field to tie the game. Derek Jeter hit a bloop single, then Johnny Damon doubled to drive two more runs home. After walking Teixeira, Hamels was done. Manager Charlie Manuel pulled him from the game after just 69 pitches and called on rookie lefthander J.A. Happ.
So what the heck happened?
Did Hamels allow the close pitch to Teixeira to get into his head? Did he lose composure, as has happened several times this season? Did his sudden insistence on throwing his curve ball lead to his down fall? Or did he just lose control?
It is impossible to crawl inside of his head, so I'll let the amateur psychologists out there determine if Hamels lost his composure. But Hamels' insistence on throwing his curve ball can be documented.
In the first four innings, he threw the pitch just twice. In the fifth, he threw it on four of his first 10 pitches, including on Swisher's double and Pettitte's single.
Hamels' first five pitches of the inning were off-speed pitches, despite the fact that he had displayed excellent command of his fastball through the first four frames.
Perhaps Hamels, catcher Carlos Ruiz, and pitching coach Rich Dubee decided that Hamels needed to start relying more on his off-speed stuff as the Yankees prepared for their third trip through the order. Perhaps they decided that the bottom of the order was a good place to start. Perhaps if Hamels hadn't started relying more on his curve, the Yankees would have feasted on his fastball.
I guess we'll never know. . .