Until March 27, we’ll be counting down the 50 greatest Phillies games of the last 50 years. This is 50 of 50.
And this is No. 40.
THE DATE: July 25, 2015
THE GAME: Phillies vs. Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field
THE STAKES: With trade rumors around Hamels continuing to percolate, any start could have been his last with the Phillies, and every pitch was an audition for more competitive clubs.
THE GREAT: When the Phillies are good again, 2015 will be remembered as the test of “real” fandom. Anyone can follow a winning team, but many people maintain that only real die-hards stick out lost seasons like the one the Phillies endured that year, when their .389 winning percentage was the team’s lowest since 1972.
Some no-hitters are easier to call than others if batters appear outmatched from the first pitch. That wasn’t necessarily the case for Cole Hamels, who walked Dexter Fowler to lead off the first before Kris Bryant hit a deep fly. Later in the inning, Anthony Rizzo was in scoring position after stealing second. Not only did a no-hitter not seem probable, but the Phillies were already at risk of falling behind.
By the second, though, things were taking shape for Hamels. He struck out Chris Denorfia and David Ross and retired Starlin Castro on a weak grounder. The next and last batter to reach base off Hamels was Fowler, who recorded his second walk of the game in the sixth inning.
It’s hard to see the performance as anything but dominant. Hamels struck out 13 and recorded 26 swinging strikes, keeping the Cubs off balance all day en route to a game score of 98. Not all no-hitters are created equal, but Hamels’ does not seem accidental or luck-induced by any stretch.
It’s not the game’s status as a no-hitter that makes it significant in Phillies lore; it’s that the game is a symbol of its circumstances. Cole Hamels, a Phillies draftee in 2002 and the most valuable player of both the National League Championship Series and World Series in 2008, deserved to end his time with the Phillies in a way that highlighted the talent that was otherwise overshadowed by a team too low in the standings to make use of it.
Even the last play of the game – a well-hit, wind-swept fly ball Odubel Herrera caught mid-stumble at the warning track – is a fitting symbol of the team’s ongoing transition in 2015. As the best pitcher of the Phillies’ last championship core recorded his final out for the club – that out clinching a no-hitter of all things, a player who hopes to be a member of the next core found himself in the national spotlight by being the one to catch it.