Before we move on from the new-found and legitimate Nationals-Phillies rivalry, there's one question that has to be clarified: What does Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels mean when he says he was bringing back old-fashioned baseball by drilling Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper in the back?
Hamels hasn't said a word since he was suspended.
Hamels, who deserved the five-game suspension that he received from Major League Baseball, is confused on the term. In old-school baseball, pitchers never threw at batters to hit them. Rather, they threw high and tight to knock batters back and intimidate them, to keep them from controlling the plate. Pitchers never wanted batters to be comfortable at the plate.
Saying Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens - or Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale for that matter - threw at hitters is an insult to their credentials. But throwing inside to get batters off the plate is a lost art in baseball, and a good weapon for a pitcher who wants to control the game. Now when pitchers throw inside, umpires can assume he's trying to hit a batter and that can lead to an ejection.
Hamels was wrong to hit Harper. A brushback pitch by Hamels would have been classic old-fashioned baseball.
The fact that Harper stole home on Hamels is a payback. It's similar to Reggie Jackson getting knocked down, wiping the dirt from his arms and uniform, and then depositing a home run in the right-field seats. That's old-fashioned baseball. Harper mirrored it better than Hamels.
As the Nationals play in Pittsburgh with right-fielder Jayson Werth on the sideline with a broken wrist, they are going to be asking more from Harper.
He's done everything. He's been patient, played great defense in left and center, thrown lasers from the outfield and hit well enough to move up to third in the batting order. Now, Harper will play right field in Werth's absence. Since he was a kid, Harper has thrived in these situations. He's not going to fold under the expectations.
What a difference a year makes: Last season, Harper, a converted catcher, was at Single-A Hagerstown learning all the defensive nuances of all three outfield positions. In spring training, he came close to making the team, but when he was sent out to Triple-A Syracuse, the Nationals' plan was to have him focus on becoming a center fielder. Now, the Nats have to hope that Harper can develop and help them survive Werth's injury at the same time.
* It's too early to anoint the Orioles as contenders, but maybe there is something to manager Buck Showalter's ability to dramatically turn around teams in his second full season. He did it with the Diamondbacks, Rangers and Yankees. The Orioles are improved, but there are questions: Will Tommy Hunter be able to locate consistent fastballs low in the zone? Will Brian Matusz be consistent? And, is Chris Davis - the hitter, not the pitcher - for real?
* As the season progresses, it seems the Red Sox's biggest issue will be in the back of the bullpen. The rotation will be strong, but will Alfredo Aceves be good enough to replace the injured Andrew Bailey as the closer? By the way, Red Sox DH David Ortiz is having a monster season. Is that the same guy most people wrote off in each of the last two years?
* The Yankees' biggest question will be in the rotation, not the bullpen, even though closer Mariano Rivera, 42, is out for the season with a knee injury. Rafael Soriano and David Robertson will get most of the save opportunities in Rivera's absence, but the Yankees should have no problem finding another pitcher to help the setup core.
* Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon said that he was "heart-broken'' to hear that Rivera was injured in Kansas City. Papelbon said that while the two were rivals, with the Red Sox and Yankees, the two were also close friends, and Rivera taught him the importance of having a "short-term'' memory when it came to remembering games, good and bad. So how long did it take for Papelbon to get over blowing a save versus the Orioles in game No. 162 last season? "I thought about it for a day and then that was it,'' Papelbon said. "I learned and moved on.''
Thanks for reading.