Cole Hamels doesn’t remember the last grand slam he gave up, and there’s a pretty good reason for that.
It wasn’t in the majors.
It wasn’t in the minors.
Maybe it was at Rancho Bernardo High School in California, from which he graduated in 2002.
Hamels has no idea.
So Billy Butler’s fifth-inning blast Sunday afternoon was the first grand slam Hamels has allowed in at least 11 years. The drive just over the left-field fence led the Royals to a 9-8 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay) and was the big blow in one of the worst outings of Hamels’ eight-year major-league career.
“It’s unfortunate, because a grand slam [almost] definitely puts your team behind, no matter how many runs you have,” Hamels said. “Four runs is a definite momentum changer. That’s obviously what it did today.”
The three-time All-Star was hit hard for a second straight start, allowing a career-high eight earned runs in 5 2/3 innings as his ERA ballooned to an ungainly 10.97 two games into the season.
For the first time since April 2009, Hamels has had consecutive starts allowing five or more earned runs in six or fewer innings. Last year he had no such starts all year.
The Phillies staked Hamels a 4-0 lead after one inning, but he allowed two runs in the third, the grand slam in the fifth and then, after Charlie Manuel finally ambled out to the mound to yank him in the sixth, Chad Durbin allowed the two baserunners he inherited to score for another two runs.
“[I’m] not giving the team the opportunity to win,” Hamels said. “When we’re able to score runs early, you want to be able to keep the team in the ball game. I wasn’t able to do that.”
Hamels, who allowed five earned in five innings in the Phillies’ opener in Atlanta on Monday, has now allowed more runs in his first two starts this year (13) than in his first seven starts last year (12).
“You have to get ahead of hitters and you have to make them uncomfortable and you have to get them out,” Hamels said. “And I obviously wasn’t able to do that.”
Hamels was 17-6 last year and didn’t lose his second game until June. Now, it’s April 7, and he’s 0-2 with two bad starts.
This is not how his first season as the unofficial ace of the staff, the opening-day starter, was supposed to go.
“We scored eight runs,” Charlie Manuel said. “You score eight runs, usually you win the game.”
Hamels allowed nine hits and walked four in 5 2/3 innings. In two starts so far, he’s given up 16 hits, walked five and allowed four home runs in just 10 2/3 innings. No pitcher in baseball has allowed more home runs so far this year than Hamels.
“I feel good, and I definitely have a good feel for all my pitches,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s not showing, and the end result is we’re not winning ball games when I’m pitching.”
The loss was Hamels’ first at Citizens bank Park since July 7. He had been undefeated in seven home starts since.
The last time Hamels allowed five or more earned runs in back-to-back games was his first two starts of 2009, against the Rockies and Padres, although he said there’s no significance there.
“That was a pretty bad season, so I really don’t want to draw upon it,” he said. “I put it in the back of the memory bank and I don’t want to re-hatch it.”
Hamels’ ERA of 10.97 is worst in the majors among 101 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the league lead a week into the season.
“I felt like he was close to the plate, but his command was definitely one of the problems,” Manuel said. “He was throwing some balls close. Definitely his command got him in trouble.”
The Phillies pounded out 15 hits off five Royals pitchers, five each in a four-run first that gave them a 4-0 lead and a four-run ninth that turned a 9-4 laugher into a taut 9-8 game with the tying run on third and the winning run on second.
But after Jimmy Rollins smashed a three-run homer to make it 9-7 and Laynce Nix made it 9-8 with an RBI single, Kelvin Herrera -- the Royals’ third pitcher of the inning -- struck out Erik Kratz on the ninth pitch of his at-bat to end the game. It was the Phils’ 14th whiff of the game.
“We were one hit from winning it,” Manuel said.
There were plenty of positives. The top of the order -- one through six -- was 13 for 28, with Michael Young raising his average to .333 with four hits, Ben Revere adding three and Rollins and Utley two apiece.
But none of it mattered, in large part because of the first grand slam Hamels has allowed in recent memory.
“Threw a fastball up and he hit it out of the ballpark,” Hamels said. “Trying to keep it down. Trying to throw strikes.”
Halladay will try to rebound from his poor first start on Monday against the Mets, then Lee and Kendrick will finish the Mets series. Hamels’ next start will come on Friday in Miami.
A loss would make him 0-3 for the first time in his career.
The Phillies are now 2-4 this year, three games behind the 5-1 Braves.
“First and foremost, [the goal is] to win the ball game, no matter who you’re playing and who’s pitching,” Hamels said. “That’s all of us in here. We want to win, and I wasn’t able to do that for two straight games.”