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November 1, 2009

On the Beat

World Series Weekend Update

by John Perrotto

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It was only a year ago that Cole Hamels was the breakout player of the postseason. Yet it seems so much longer. The Phillies left-hander tried once again to find the magic of 2008 on Saturday night as he took the mound in Game Three of the World Series. For three innings, the 25-year-old looked like the carefree kid who stymied the Brewers, Dodgers, and Rays last year as he played a major role in delivering the Phillies' second World Series title in the franchise's 125-year history.

He held the Yankees hitless and allowed only one baserunner when he hit Alex Rodriguez with a pitch in the second inning. He was carving up a lineup that led the major leagues in runs scored during the regular season in much the same fashion fellow lefty Cliff Lee did in Game One three nights earlier.

Then the fourth and fifth innings came and the magic disappeared. Rodriguez hit a two-run home run in the fourth, and Hamels couldn't make it through a fifth inning that included the Yankees scoring three runs, turning a 3-0 deficit into a 5-3 lead en route to an 8-5 victory at Citizens Bank Park that gave them a 2-1 advantage in the Series.

"It's pretty typical of my whole season," Hamels said as he patiently addressed a throng of media in the center of the Phillies' clubhouse. "It's been a mentally draining year. It seems like every time I do something good that it's followed by something bad. It's a tough game, baseball. Sometimes it just kicks your butt. I've had mine kicked a few times this year."

Hamels has had his rear end kicked in each of his four postseason starts. He gave up four runs in five innings in a losing effort to the Rockies in the National League Division Series, was touched for seven runs in a 9 2/3 innings in two starts against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, and was then was charged with five runs in 4 1/3 innings on Saturday night.

It certainly hasn't been like last year, when he went a combined 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts. His regular season wasn't the same as 2008, either. He went from being ranked fifth in the major leagues with a 7.2 SNLVAR to 58th with a 3.8. Hamels reported to spring training out of shape after spending the offseason basking in his newfound celebrity and has never regained his form. His pitches lack crispness and he tends to get rattled at the first sign of adversity.

The change has been so dramatic that the first question asked of Phillies manager Charlie Manuel in his postgame press conference concerned Hamels' mental toughness. "I'd never question his mental toughness," Manuel said, though not convincingly.

Hamels' next start would come in a potential Game Seven, as Manuel has decided to go with four starters rather than trying to leverage three starts out of Cliff Lee. When Manuel was asked if he would hesitate to start Hamels in a winner-take-all game, he did not equivocally commit to the lefty.

"You know something, I wouldn't be hesitant to start him, but at the same time, we'll see how the series goes," Manuel said. "He showed you for three innings that he can pitch. I look at that; if he can do it for three innings, then why can't he keep going?"

The problem is that major league games still last nine innings, although if the Series does get to a Game Seven, then the Phillies would seemingly have their entire pitching staff available with the exception of Pedro Martinez, who would start Game Six. Though Manuel took the gamble of waiting until Game Five to bring Lee back, he said his ace would also be available out of the bullpen in Game Seven. Manuel could also quickly turn to rookie left-hander J.A. Happ, bumped from the rotation in the postseason, if Hamels struggles early.

Hamels, for his part, said he would be eager to take the ball in a seventh game. "Why wouldn't I be?" Hamels said. "Everybody wants to a pitch a Game Seven."

However, Hamels' performance in Game Three might make a Game Seven moot. The Yankees have the advantage in tonight's Game Four as they send ace left-hander CC Sabathia to the mound against Joe Blanton. Sabathia had a 6.5 SNLVAR in the regular season, and Blanton had a 4.3. A 3-1 deficit would be tough for the Phillies to overcome, especially since it would be Sabathia facing Hamels in a Game Seven. "If it comes to that, I'll be ready for the challenge," Hamels said, but his 7.58 ERA in this postseason would seem to indicate otherwise.

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Instant replay was used for the first time in World Series history Saturday night, and it helped the umpires get a call right. Rodriguez's home run was originally ruled a double until crew chief Gerry Davis watched the video and changed it.

"Our objective is to get every play correct and boundary calls are one of the toughest things we have," Davis said. "There's no question replay helps there."

Despite the growing cry for Major League Baseball to use replay for more than just determining boundary calls on home runs, do not expect it to happen on Bud Selig's watch. The Commissioner has reiterated throughout the World Series, even during an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, that the use of video to aid umpires won't be expanded, regardless of how many calls have been missed during this postseason.

"I think my position has been clear," Selig said. "This is a game of pace. We've worried a lot about that. I've spent a lot of time talking to people about it. I understand we had some incidents that were most unfortunate. They were controversial and beyond controversial. There's no sense in hiding that. I don't miss a pitch and I understand all these things. I think there are other ways we can make corrections. During the offseason we'll deal with all these things."

Selig did say that the umpires' performances would be reviewed after the season and hinted the evaluation process may be tweaked. He clearly prefers that to replay. "There will be a time and place to think about all this and I don't take it lightly," Selig said. "I don't think anybody has engineered more change over the last 17 years than I have. I'm not afraid of change but you have to be very careful when you tamper with this sport."

Manuel said he has thought about both sides of the replay issue and is still unsure of his position. "The umpires tell you when you go out and argue with them that they're just trying to get it right," Manuel said. "Almost every play is reviewed (on television). Every time there's a bang-bang play or the umpire misses a call, it's there for you to see. I think the more you show that over and over, you're going to talk about instant replay. I don't know if I'm for (instant replay reviews) or not. It's just something I haven't come to the conclusion on how to fix it."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi also hasn't taken a side on instant replay. However, he does echo Selig's sentiment about the potential impact on pace of the game. "We've been on the good side of some calls, and we've been on the other side of some calls," Girardi said. "Each team has had to deal with that for years. Nobody is perfect out there. There are not enough eyes to see every play that takes place. We all know that. My concern about using instant replay too much is the rhythm of the game, especially for the pitchers. So if it was expanded, I would like to see an umpire in the booth who could make a call within 30 seconds because I think most calls you could make within 30 seconds, which a lot of times would be quicker than a manager running out there (to argue)."

---

No manager speaks his mind as much as the White Sox's Ozzie Guillen. That is why Fox is using him as an analyst on its pregame and postgame shows during World Series telecasts. Guillen might also win the title of most-profane manager, which leads to the question of whether he has to make a conscious effort to watch his tongue while on the air.

"The only time I use curse words is when I'm with the Chicago media or my team plays badly," Guillen said with a smile. "Other than that, I don't swear. I only use curse words to make my point. I know how to talk to people. I'm not going to go on television and start cursing."

Guillen said television work has been more nerve-wracking than expected and he does not foresee changing careers anytime soon. "It's tough because when that red light goes on the camera you know everyone is watching," Guillen said. "Managing is a lot easier. I feel very confident in the dugout. I'm in my element. The TV thing has been fun, but I plan on managing for a long time. I think I'm a better manager than a broadcaster."

---

The Cubs' interminable sale process has finally ended as the Ricketts Family has taken control of the franchise after purchasing the ballclub and Wrigley Field from the Tribune Co., which first put the team on the market on Opening Day in 2007. Tom Ricketts, the head of the ownership group, says he does not plan any major changes for the Cubs, even though their two-year run as NL Central champions ended this season, and that general manager Jim Hendry and manager Lou Piniella would be retained. The Cubs entered the season as heavy favorites in the division but finished in second place, 7½ games behind the Cardinals.

"We strongly believe Lou is one of the best managers in baseball and he's the right guy to take us to the next level in 2010," Ricketts said. "We have the right people and have the right manager. You let them do their job. If it doesn't happen, then we think about it next year."

That would seem to imply Hendry could be on the hot seat if the Cubs struggle, even though he has a contract that runs through 2012. Hendry understands that, especially after the Ricketts paid $840 million for the Cubs, the largest transaction price in baseball history. "It's a huge investment for (Ricketts) and his family, and he should be comfortable that he has the best people possible moving forward," Hendry told the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmeyer. "I hope I'm that guy for a while. I have no doubt I'll be treated fairly and honestly and that's all a guy in my job should expect."

---

MLB Rumors and Rumblings: The Mets are considering former Mariners and Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin to fill their bench coach vacancy, which would make him the most likely successor to manager Jerry Manuel, who will begin next season atop the "most likely to be fired" list. … Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez plans to exercise the $20 million player option on his contract for 2010 rather than risk going on the free-agent market as a 37-year-old coming off a season in which he faded late and was suspended 50 games for using a performance-enhancing drug. … Outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. has again asked the Angels to trade him, but it remains to be seen if they are willing to eat enough of the $23 million left on his contract that would get another team interested. … Angels left-handed reliever Darren Oliver is considering retirement at 39. … Clint Hurdle, fired as the Rockies' manager in May, is one of four candidates to replace Rudy Jaramillo as the Rangers' hitting coach, along with Thad Bosley, Rusty Greer, and Gerald Perry. All but Greer have experience as a major league hitting coach.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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