On July 25, 2012, Cole Hamels signed what was, at the time, the second-most expensive contract ever given to a pitcher. The deal with the Phillies, then the five-time defending NL East champions, was for six years and $144 million and included a club option for 2019 and limited no-trade protection that sought to ensure Hamels would end his career with the same team that had drafted him seven years earlier.
“This is the place that I call home and want to call home for a really long time,” Hamels said then. “I grew up watching Tony Gwynn play, and he made San Diego his home for his entire career. That’s ultimately what I want to make in Philadelphia.”
On July 25, 2015, Cole Hamels pitched the first solo no-hitter of his 10-year major league career in a 5–0 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. It was hard not to think of that contract, of that comment and of that once-great Phillies organization on Saturday while watching Hamels add another notable achievement to a career that includes NLCS and World Series MVP honors, three All-Star selections and the third-most strikeouts in the majors since his 2006 debut. Hamels has always been a well above-average pitcher, but he is not one who ever deserved to be the second-highest paid pitcher in the history of the game. He is 31 years old and still owed $73.5 million guaranteed for the next three seasons, including a $6 million buyout of that aforementioned club option. Philadelphia, which hasn’t made the postseason since Hamels signed that deal, entered Saturday 35–63, the worst record in the majors by a full seven games.
And even Hamels has probably resigned himself to the fact that he is almost certainly not going to finish his career with the Phillies. He may not even finish his weekend with them.
Few names have been as frequently discussed in reported trade discussions as the July 31 trade deadline approaches as Hamels. Even before he took the mound in Chicago, the rumors du jour had him linked Dodgers, Rangers, Giants, Yankees and even the Cubs, who no doubt would have preferred he had been dealt before he put them on the wrong side of no-hit history for the first time in 50 years.
The bevy of scouts on hand at Wrigley were indicative of the heat around Hamels, whose durability (seven consecutive seasons of 30 or more starts), postseason experience (13 starts, third among active pitchers) and current credentials all make him among the most desired commodities at this year’s deadline. His no-hitter improved his record to 6–7 and dropped his season ERA to 3.64, still more than a run higher than last year’s 2.46 that ranked fifth in the National League, but those numbers are misleading. His peripherals—his ratio of strikeouts (9.58), walks (2.73) and home runs (0.84) allowed per nine innings—are all in line or better than his career rates of 8.6, 2.8 and 0.9, respectively, as is his 1.18 WHIP (1.15 career).
With 13 strikeouts against just two walks on Saturday, Hamels reaffirmed his status as one of the game’s best. That would have been true even if 23-year-old rookie centerfielder Odubel Herrera hadn’t been able to make two impressive but surprisingly dramatic catches to ensure the no-hitter. The first came in the eighth against David Ross, when Herrera ran far into leftfield, seemed to take an oddly sharp right turn and then caught the ball before skidding on the warning track. Then, with two outs in the ninth, Herrera ran back to the centerfield wall in pursuit of Kris Bryant’s deep drive, tried to come back in for it, but stumbled and fell to the ground. He had to reach out to snare the ball just before it landed on the dirt and complete the no-hitter.
As Herrera jumped in relief, the rest of his teammates were rushing to the mound to mob Hamels, whose bearded face had broken into a wide smile. He has had plenty of fine moments in his career—being the winning pitcher in 2008 when the franchise won its first pennant in 25 years and only its second World Series title in 125 years of existence and going the first six innings of the Phillies' combined no-hitter last Sept. 1 in Atlanta—but nothing quite like this. He told the local Philadelphia TV station afterward that he wasn’t wondering whether it would be his last game after 308, postseason included, in a Phillies uniform, but no one would have blamed him if he had. He arrived at Citizens Bank Park in 2006 as a first-round draft pick tasked with helping turn the franchise around and then did just that. He survived numerous injuries before he reached the majors—he suffered a broken humerus in high school and a broken pitching hand suffered in a January 2005 bar brawl in Clearwater, Fla., that resulted in a serious tongue-lashing from then-Phillies GM Ed Wade—to become the sixth-winningest pitcher in franchise history at 114.
Early in his big-league career, Hamels’s teammates called him "Hollywood," a nod to both his good looks and his California upbringing. He still has the looks and he may yet be back in the Golden State, pitching for the Dodgers or Giants. Or maybe he will head to New York and be called "Broadway." Or, he could stay behind in Chicago and join the team he just blanked.
But no matter where the next week or even the rest of his career takes him, Saturday’s gem ensured that Cole Hamels will always be thought of as a Phillie.