Phils drop opener Offense shows life, but Hamels allows 3 homers in loss
BY MATT GELB, The Philadelphia Inquirer
ATLANTA -- The first pitch was less than three hours away Monday, and $435.5 million worth of Phillies lounged on three leather couches. The six players watched baseball because there was nothing left to do. They had waited an entire winter and seven weeks of spring training for this night that could not start soon enough.
Cole Hamels, the most expensive of them all, waited years for this moment. He prepared for his first opening-day start in a corner of the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field. He studied a Braves lineup that gashed him for three home runs in a 7-5 loss.
It was one game, one night, and beyond frustrating because of the wait.
He did not flinch after throwing fat pitches that landed for the first two Atlanta homers. The third, a cutter that split home plate in the fifth inning to Justin Upton, was the breaking point. Hamels bent over, put his hands on his knees and dipped his head.
The Phillies are 0-1 for the first time since 2009. The schedule calls for another day of inactivity today, which does not feel right after just 2 hours, 56 minutes of baseball and the immediate disappointment it created.
They flashed brilliance -- Ben Revere's 11-pitch walk, Chase Utley's three-hit dazzler, the constant chipping away -- but it was not enough.
Hamels allowed five runs in five innings. He could not locate his pitches. He spiked his curveballs. He floated his cutters.
As it began its Post-Chipper Era, Atlanta hoarded power this winter with the acquisitions of the Upton brothers. The lineup could mash about 200 home runs in 2013. Hamels served up three in a game for the ninth time in his career.
Freddie Freeman drilled a 93-mph belt-high cutter in the first inning. Dan Uggla hacked at a 91-mph fastball with a 3-0 count in the second. That swing initiated a stadium's chant while red foam tomahawks waved among the 51,456 in attendance.
The outcome was not unfamiliar for Hamels. He has lost his first start five times in the last seven years. He did not pitch more than 51-e innings in any of those outings since 2008.
The hole grew when Chad Durbin relieved Hamels in the sixth.
The veteran reliever faced three hitters, all of whom reached base, and two scored. For Durbin, it was a continuation of a rocky spring in which opposing scouts doubted his stuff.
Had Durbin been effective, Hamels' performance may have been a footnote --the Phillies' offense was plenty capable.
Utley, playing his first opening day since 2010, was spectacular in falling a double shy of the cycle. He blasted a Tim Hudson pitch to straightaway center for his 200th career home run in the fourth. His legs carried him to third base on a ball hit to the wall in right-center.
When Revere grinded an 11-pitch walk, it gassed Hudson. The Phillies scored twice on an Utley single in the fifth to cut Atlanta's lead to 4-3. Hudson was removed before Hamels. The possibility for greater damage disappeared when Ryan Howard whiffed against lefty Luis Avilan and Domonic Brown tapped a grounder with the bases loaded.
In the next half-inning, Upton promptly gashed Hamels for another home run, and the Braves felt better. They held that advantage until the ninth, when Guns N' Roses blared to signal Craig Kimbrel's entrance.
After 16 pitches, the Phillies and their fans were forced to wait even longer to taste victory.