Remember when nothing stirred the emotions of the Phillies and their fans more than the New York Mets coming to town?
Not any more. Now, it is the Washington Nationals who have become the most despised baseball team in Philadelphia.
The Phillies got their first look at the young and talented Nationals over the weekend when the Beltway Boys took two out of three games without really taking back their pedestrian ballpark.
Nats general manager Mike Rizzo squirted gasoline on the fire by calling Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels "gutless" for drilling 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper in the back in the bottom of the first inning Sunday night.
Harper, of course, got even by stealing home when Hamels was too casual with his pickoff throw to first base. The Nats also evened the score when Jordan Zimmermann hit Hamels on the left shin as he attempted a third-inning bunt. Zimmermann denied retaliation.
For more than a century, this is how things have worked in baseball, but Rizzo took exception to the fact that Hamels wanted to introduce the Nats' excitable teenager to the world of major-league baseball.
"Fake tough," Rizzo called Hamels. "Cole Hamels says he's old school? He's the polar opposite of old school. He's fake tough. He thinks he's going to intimidate us after hitting our 19-year-old rookie who's eight games into the big leagues? He doesn't know who he's dealing with."
First of all, what Hamels did is as old school as it gets. Had he gone after Harper's head, it's a different story. He did not.
The late Tug McGraw once told me a story about a prominent player moving from the American League to the National League who settled into the batter's box to face Bob Gibson for the first time during spring training in St. Petersburg, Fla.
According to McGraw, Gibson drilled the player in the back with a first-pitch fastball, walked to home plate, picked up the ball and said, "Welcome to the National League."
That's pretty old school, so for Rizzo to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.
More ridiculous was Rizzo's final comment in the above sentence.
Hamels doesn't know who he's dealing with?
Dear Mike, you're taking yourself a little too seriously.
You're the fourth-year GM of a team that has never finished above .500 during your watch. Yes, your team is playing well and has a lot of youthful talent. You've made some good moves and trades, but you've also been fortunate to have the first overall draft pick when two incredible talents -- Harper and Stephen Strasburg -- made the first overall pick a no brainer.
Rizzo, citing player safety and the NFL's recent "bounty" suspensions of New Orleans Saints players, coaches and team officials, urged Major League Baseball to suspend Hamels for at least one start. If that's the case, Zimmermann must be suspended, too, because it was his pitch that triggered a warning from home-plate umpire Andy Fletcher.
Rizzo suggested this incident went beyond rivalry.
Wrong again. This was all about rivalry.
Hamels wanted to make a point and he made it. The Phillies won the game and are still intent on winning a sixth straight division title.
The Nationals won April and the first week of May, but lost another quality player Sunday when Jayson Werth fractured his wrist.
The Phillies have won five straight division titles because they have been able to overcome poor starts and player injuries. The Nationals still have a long way to go before they can say the same, even if they do have Mike Rizzo as their general manager.