PHILADELPHIA -- He didn't mean it the way it sounds.
At least, I don't think he did.
When Cole Hamels said Saturday night, "I can't wait for it to end," I'm fairly sure he didn't mean he wants to see this World Series end in the quickest way possible, since that quickest way would involve Yankee wins the next two nights, and the Yankees -- and not Hamels' Phillies -- spraying champagne when it's over.
But even the fact that those words passed through Cole Hamels' lips tells you an awful lot about the mindset of the Phillies' one-time ace. And the lack of the usual Phillie bravado tells you an awful lot about the mindset of this very proud but now seemingly shaken team.
Oh, there was some big talk in the Phillies' clubhouse after Sunday's 8-5 Yankee win in Game 3.
"Well, it'll be Phillies in 6," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said, once he was reminded that his original "Phils in 5" pick is looking a little unlikely.
But just as you had to hear Hamels' words to (I think) understand the context, you had to hear Rollins' voice to get the full effect.
This isn't a defeated team. But it sure is a team that has quickly become aware that the end of the season -- and not a good end -- could be near.
"We've played three games, and at most there's four games left," manager Charlie Manuel said. "If we're going to get going, it's time for us to do it."
A year ago, the Phillies would have done it on the night Hamels pitched. He was 4-0 in that magical 2008 postseason, with a 1.80 ERA. Every time he started a game, the Phillies won.
They've lost two of his four October starts this year, and after coughing up a three-run lead and allowing five runs in 4 1/3 innings Saturday, he owns an ugly 7.58 postseason ERA.
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This after a regular season in which he had a losing record for the first time in his career, along with an ERA more than a run higher than he had the year before.
He talked Saturday about how moments in Game 3 were "the story of my season," and how "I don't hit a small speed bump, I hit a big one."
He talked about how he has a lot to learn.
And, when it was mentioned to him that he could still start a possible Game 7, Hamels said (and this is important), "I really do hope I have that opportunity. ... Having a Game 7 opportunity, that would mean a lot. I hope my teammates believe in me, and want me to be out there for it."
It was in that context -- the frustration of the season, the uncertainty that the World Series will even get to a Game 7 -- that I asked the next question:
"You talked about the possibility of a Game 7 leaving you with a good feeling. If this ended up being your last start, with the way this whole season has gone, what feeling would you be left with?"
And that's when Hamels blurted out, even before I finished the question, "I can't wait for it to end. It's been mentally draining. At year's end, you just can't wait for a fresh start."
Three games into a World Series, there are no fresh starts. The Phillies can no more erase their two losses than Hamels can erase his horribly disappointing start Saturday night, no more than Ryan Howard can erase his 2 for 13 with nine strikeouts.
They can't erase that part of the story. They still could add an ending that changes the theme.
We know how fast these storylines can change. Today, everyone is telling you that the Yankees are in great shape, with a two-games-to-one lead and a CC Sabathia win away from making it three games to one. But if the Phillies win Game 4, the story quickly shifts to how the Phils are a Cliff Lee win away from a three-games-to-two lead of their own.
To use Hamels' words, the Phillies can still hope they've hit a small speed bump, and not a big one. This time of year, big speed bumps mean quick ends to seasons, whether you can't wait for them to end or not.
If this series does go on for a while, or even if the Phillies just manage to win one of the next two games, we'll all be asking again if Manuel could possibly start Hamels in Game 7.
|'At year's end, you just can't wait for a fresh start,' Cole Hamels says after the loss. (Getty Images)|
"I wouldn't be hesitant to start him," Manuel said. "But at the same time, we'll see how the series goes. He showed you for three innings [in Game 4] that he can pitch. If he can do it for three innings, why can't he keep going?
"That's kind of how I look at it."
That's one way to look at it.
The guy you're talking about just said -- no matter what the context -- that he can't wait for the season to end. That should tell Manuel a lot, whether you take his words literally or not.
It's hard to imagine Manuel starting Hamels again in Game 7, but that's not really the relevant question after Game 3.
Whether or not Hamels is done for the year -- and whether or not he can't wait to be done -- the much bigger question is whether his teammates are done, too.
Through two Octobers, they never played a postseason game where their opponent had already won twice in a series. Now, as they play into November for the first time in their lives, the Phillies are in a time and in a place they've never been before.
They say they're ready to go on, that their confidence hasn't been shaken.
And I think they mean that exactly how it sounds.