Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels were half of one of the greatest rotations in baseball history in 2011. Two years prior, the two were paired at the top of the Phillies rotation for the first time. Lee, behind one of the most dominant playoff runs in league history, helped pitch the Phillies to two World Series victories. Hamels - who was still effective in the regular season, but did show regression from the 2008 season - posted a 7.58 ERA in four postseason starts, including a Game 3 World Series loss to the New York Yankees.
Despite MVP-caliber performances from Lee and Chase Utley, the Phillies lost the 2009 World Series in six games, finishing two wins away from winning consecutive World Series titles. Nearly a decade later, Hamels still seems bothered by his performance in the Phillies failed attempt to repeat as World Champions.
Hamels spoke to Randy Miller of NJ Advance Media on a variety of topics, and when asked about the possibility of the Yankees pursuing him as they attempt to win this year's World Series, Hamels joked that he's already helped bring a World Series to the sport's most historically successful franchise:
Q: Are you aware that a lot of Yankee fans are bringing your name up quite a bit thinking that you're going to the final piece to their next championship?
Hamels: “Shoot, I helped them get a World Series in ‘09, so I’m sure they like me! … No, no. I understand it. It’s kind of the nature of what happens and I think anytime you get traded once, you understand that the possibilities are there.
Even with Hamels' struggles in the National League playoffs, the 2009 Phillies had no issue defending their National League crown. His Game 2 start against the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS - when he gave up seven hits and four earned runs across five innings - was the only game that the Phillies lost in their four-game victory over the Rockies. With Lee unavailable to pitch until Game 3 of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Hamels got the ball in Game 1 of the series. He, again, wasn't particularity effective, as he allowed eight hits and four earned runs in 5.1 innings. Luckily for Hamels, Clayton Kershaw wasn't effective for the Dodgers either, and a combined eight RBIs from Raul Ibanez, Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard helped the Phillies to steal Game 1 in Chavez Ravine.
The luck for Hamels ran out in the World Series, where the Phillies met the Yankees.
After Lee delivered a dominant Game 1 complete game, A.J. Burnett outpitched Pedro Martinez to give the Yankees a Game 2 win. The series shifted back to Philadelphia for Game 3, with Hamels on the mound. The Yankees chased Hamels after 4.1 innings, in which he gave up five runs. Two of those runs came on a controversial home run from Alex Rodriguez:
Hamels took the loss in Game 3 of the World Series, despite being spotted a three-run lead. He says he's still bothered by not being able to hold that three-run lead and help the Phillies take a 2-1 series lead:
Q: You joked about blowing the 2009 World Series. Does your (five-run, 4 1/3-inning) performance in Game 3 still bug you?
“The opportunity that I was given … I was a lot of runs early and to not be able to hold that (3-0) lead. The series was even. To not be able to hold that lead, I think it as kind of a pivotal moment and that kind of changes the tide in a series, especially when you’re home. So I think that kind of always leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, especially against the Yankees. You always want to go to the postseason and beat the Yankees. I think that was kind of how I grew up (in San Diego). I got to watch all those (1990s and 2000) Yankees teams win as a kid, especially when they took down the hometown Padres (in 1998). You always want to try to get one on ‘em, but they got me (in 2009). I wasn’t able to solidify the job and then I didn’t have an opportunity for a Game 7 (because the Yankees won in six games). Who knows what would have happened if I had even been there (in Game 7). It wasn’t a very good postseason for me. It definitely taught me a lot. If that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have the type of pitches that I have (now) and the repertoire and obviously that toughness.”
As Hamels alluded to, there wasn't a Game 7. Charlie Manuel elected not to use Lee on short rest in Game 4, instead giving the ball to Joe Blanton, who ultimately was out-pitched by CC Sabathia. Lee came back and helped pitch the Phillies to a Game 5 win, but the Yankees ultimately clinched the World Series in Game 6, as Martinez, who was making the final start of his career, ran out of gas.
The idea of Hamels making a start in Game 7 of the 2009 World Series didn't leave most in Philadelphia with a good feeling at the time. After his disappointing start in Game 3 of the World Series - with his postseason ERA having ballooned to 7.58 - Hamels admitted that he "couldn't wait for the season to end." Even after the team's Game 5 win over the Yankees, with the Phillies set to head back to New York, Brett Myers and Hamels were involved in a heated verbal exchange in the clubhouse. And even with Lee scheduled to pitch in Game 5 of the World Series - three days before a potential Game 7 would have taken place - Manuel was noncommittal on whether he would turn to Hamels to pitch in Game 7, which would have been his scheduled turn to pitch.
In the end, a variety of factors contributed to the Phillies not winning the 2009 World Series. Sure, Hamels having the worst postseason of his career left the Phillies without a No. 2 starter behind Lee, but they probably also lacked a No. 3 starter. Blanton and late-stage Martinez were worthy of pitching in the MLB in 2009. They probably shouldn't have been starting in the World Series, however. And beyond Utley's Herculean effort in the World Series - he tied the single-season MLB record of five World Series home runs in a six-game series - the Phillies didn't get enough offensive production from their stars to offset holes in their starting rotation and bullpen.