The part Cole Hamels plays for the Cubs now, as he tries to pitch them back into the World Series, is a part that, in the late summer, he has played before. It was just three years ago, in 2015, that the Rangers traded for Hamels the way the Cubs
The part Cole Hamels plays for the Cubs now, as he tries to pitch them back into the World Series, is a part that, in the late summer, he has played before. It was just three years ago, in 2015, that the Rangers traded for Hamels the way the Cubs did on July 27, acquiring him from the Phillies because they thought they could make another run of their own to the World Series.
Hamels was 7-1 for the Rangers that year in 12 starts. Going into Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Blue Jays, the Rangers had been winners in Hamels' previous 11 starts. Hamels started the seventh inning of Game 5, one of the craziest innings in recent postseason history, one that eventually lasted nearly an hour in real time. Texas' infielders made three straight errors to load the bases, and Jose Bautista finally hit a three-run homer off reliever Sam Dyson that inspired one of the most famous bat flips in all of postseason history.
Hamels pitched 6 1/3 innings that day, giving up just two earned runs and striking out eight and walking just two. But the Rangers didn't make it to the AL Championship Series. Hamels didn't make it back to the World Series for the first time since 2009.
Hamels was still only 31 when he got to Texas, and he reminded everybody that he still had it. After that Game 5, Hamels said, "I think I could pitch tomorrow. I wish there was a Game 6."
Hamels got another October shot at the Blue Jays the next year, but got lit up and didn't make it out of the fourth inning of Game 1.
This year, Hamels' record with the Rangers was 5-9, and he gave up 115 hits in 114 1/3 innings en route to a 4.72 ERA. But the Cubs needed another pitcher, especially with the Brewers close by and the Cardinals surging. Another ex-Ranger, Yu Darvish, ended up winning just one game on the North Side before his season ended with a triceps injury.
The Cubs went for Hamels, who has been pitching for the club even better than he did for Texas when the Rangers traded for him three years ago. He's pitched for the Cubs the way he pitched with the Phillies in 2008, when he was a World Series MVP at the age of 24.
On Monday, against the Brewers, Hamels pitched six more innings for the Cubs and gave up two earned runs in a 4-3 loss, earning a no-decision. He has now started seven games for them, pitched 45 innings and given up a grand total of five earned runs for a 1.00 ERA. No starter in baseball is pitching better than Hamels is right now.
There was a day in 2006 -- Hamels' rookie year with the Phillies that ended with him going 9-8 and starting 23 games -- when I was sitting with the late Gene Michael in the media dining room at the old Yankee Stadium. Michael was one of the great baseball men of his time, especially with the Yankees. The Yanks were looking for pitching in '06, because even though they kept making the playoffs, they always seemed to be looking for starting pitching.
"The kid I'd love to have," Michael said that day, "is the left-handed kid in Philadelphia."
Michael was talking about Hamels, who was 22 at the time.
"I've been around this game a long time," Michael said, "and this kid already has one of the best changeups I've ever seen. He can be a big pitcher for a long time."
The next year, Hamels went 15-5. The year after that, he was MVP of the 2008 World Series. And a year later, Hamels was pitching in the '09 World Series against the Yankees, who roughed him up in his only start. He stayed with the Phillies for nine-plus seasons. Then, Hamels went to Texas. Now, he is back in play, in such a big and important way, with the Cubs.
And if Hamels keeps pitching the way he's pitched and helps get the Cubs back into the World Series, it will mean that of all the moves that all the contenders in baseball have made over the past month -- Manny Machado moving to Los Angeles, former MVP Award winners like Andrew McCutchen (Yankees) and Josh Donaldson (Indians) moving, and all the starters and relievers who have changed teams across two Deadlines -- Hamels will have been as important a move as any club made, even though he almost seemed like a last resort for the Cubs when they got him.
Hamels is back to being the kind of pitcher he was when he was a kid to watch in Philly. There was even some talk that the Phillies might try to bring Hamels home, but the Cubs grabbed him instead.
"Truthfully, at that time, I didn't even think about [Philadelphia]," Hamels said to Paul Sullivan in the Chicago Tribune about the deal. "I was trying to figure out how to pitch well."
Now, Hamels is doing just that. There have been a lot of moves since July all around baseball. The Yankees alone have added five guys. But no move has been more impactful than the one the Cubs made for Hamels.
Michael was right about Hamels. All this time later, he's still a big pitcher -- not one can you find bigger in baseball right now.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.