By Michael Rushton, MLB Contributor - Archive - Email
Hamels puts odd kindling on Phils-Nats fire
Cole Hamels cited old-time baseball as the reason he hit Bryce Harper.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One could argue the Washington Nationals fired the first shot, the Lexington and Concord if you will, in their new rivalry with the Philadelphia Phillies back in early February with a simple PR move.

It was then that the Nationals launched their "Take Back the Park" initiative, aimed at limiting the number of Phillies fans invading Washington's home ballpark when the National League East residents get together in the nation's capital. The plan involved single game tickets for the May 4-6 series at first being limited to only season ticket holders and residents of the Washington D.C., Maryland or Virginia areas.

It was an odd -- and let's be honest, silly -- way for the franchise to announce it was ready to be taken seriously. A better method was to win on the field, something the Nationals have done to the tune of an 18-10 record, good enough for first place in the NL East.

Two of those wins came this past weekend at the expense of the Phillies. They outgrinded the five-time defending division champions for an 11-inning victory in Friday's opener, then outslugged them in a 7-1 victory the following day.

But if Washington's ticket stunt started the war, than Sunday's finale was Bunker Hill.

Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels, a former World Series MVP, plunked 19-year-old Washington phenom Bryce Harper square in the back in the first inning with a pitch that seemed targeted at the young outfielder.

In fact, it was, as Hamels admitted afterwards.

"It's just, 'Welcome to the big leagues.' I was trying to hit him. I'm not going to deny it," admitted Hamels.

Rivalry on.

Though Harper got the last laugh in that incident, moving to third on a Jayson Werth single and then stealing home off Hamels, and took the high road by calling the Phillies starter a 'great guy, great pitcher" and "an All-Star," Philadelphia got a bit of its swagger back with a 9-3 win.

Hamels explained his actions further, citing old-time baseball as the reason he hit a 19-year-old with just a few games of experience.

"That's just something that I grew up watching, that's kind of what happened. I'm just trying to continue old baseball because I think some people kind of get away from it," Hamels said. "I remember when I was a rookie, the strike zone was really, really small and you didn't say anything because that's the way baseball is. I think, unfortunately, sometimes the league's protecting certain players and making it not as old school, prestigious baseball."

Not only were Hamels' comments idiotic in nature, they were completely unnecessary. What Hamels tried to accomplish in hitting Harper is baffling, but his unprovoked admittance earned him a five-game suspension from the league.

Out of Phillies camp, manager Charlie Manuel said he wished Hamels would have been more discreet about his actions, which isn't surprising because that is what ultimately earned Hamels the ban, while general manager Ruben Amaro did not condone the beaning.

"If what he said is true, yeah I'm kind of disappointed in, one, the fact that it happened and, two, more importantly, that he made those kind of comments," Amaro said on Monday. "That's a little disappointing. I kind of wish the incident didn't happen, but that's part of the game and we'll move on from there."

Things were much more heated from Washington's side. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo ripped Hamels in an interview with the Washington Post, but like Hamels probably should have just kept quiet.

"He thinks he's sending a message to us of being a tough guy. He's sending the polar opposite message. He says he's being honest; well, I'm being honest. It was a gutless chicken (bleep) (bleeping) act. That was a fake-tough act. No one has ever accused Cole Hamels of being old school," Rizzo told the newspaper.

Rizzo can talk all he wants, but it is his players who have to respond.

One Nationals player did have something to add to the budding rivalry, but it was actually directed at the fans. Werth, a beloved member of the Phillies' 2008 World Series championship team, took exception to how Phillies fans at Nationals Park (so much for taking back the park) reacted when he suffered a painful wrist injury on Sunday that will required surgery and could keep him out of action for 10-to-12 weeks.

"After walking off the field feeling nauseous knowing my wrist was broke and hearing Philly fans yelling 'You deserve it,' and, 'That's what you get,' I am motivated to get back quickly and see to it personally those people never walk down Broad Street in celebration again," Werth, who signed a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Nats in December 2010, wrote in an email to the Washington Post.

Rivalries make for interesting storylines, but the one brewing between these two teams needs to grow more organically on the field. Talk is cheap and neither Hamels, Rizzo or Werth are looking like class acts at the moment.

Still, though it is going to take some time for the Phillies-Nationals rift to join the likes of Yankees-Red Sox, Dodgers-Giants or even Phillies-Mets, there is no doubt that the two clubs have planted a seed that could sprout into a forest.

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