Admit it. You've been holding your breath all winter, waiting for the Philadelphia Phillies to announce their Opening Day starter. Well, go ahead and breathe. Breathe. Because the smoke is white, and it's Cole Hamels. Details (via Jim Salisbury):
Hamels, 29, signed the richest contract in Philadelphia sports history -- six years, $144 million -- in July. He is the Phillies’ longest-tenured pitcher. This will be his first opening-day start. He was supposed to start on opening day 2009, but had to be pushed back because of a sore elbow.
Hamels led the Phillies with 17 wins last season. He was the MVP of the 2008 World Series.
Roy Halladay started the Phillies’ last three openers. Earlier this spring, he endorsed Hamels for the honor, saying it was the lefthander’s time to lead the staff.
First of all, I consider the first game for each team a sort of holiday. No, maybe it's not a legal holiday. But if Arbor Day gets to be capitalized, then by gosh I'm going to capitalize Opening Day.
Now, about Hamels ... Just one year ago, the Phillies could reasonably lay claim to three legitimate aces: Halladay, Hamels, and Cliff Lee. I don't remember for sure, but that trio might even have had a nickname or something. But while Hamels was winning 17 games last season, Halladay and Lee combined for 17 wins. Also, for 17 losses.
Sure, that was a fluky deal; Halladay was hurt, and Lee was among the unluckiest pitchers in Forever, going 6-9 despite a 3.16 ERA and the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the whole league. You might, in fact, reasonably argue that Cliff Lee pitched somewhat better than Cole Hamels last season.
Which is sort of beside the point. Halladay's still hurt (or pitching like he's hurt) and Hamels is likely to be pitching effectively for the Phillies long after both Halladay and Lee are gone. Hamels might not be the Phillies' best pitcher yet, but that day seems inevitable, and there's no harm in getting a little head start on that news. Especially considering that Hamels, at 29, is hardly some fresh-faced kid.