Where's Cole Hamels headed?
He circled the bases for the first time, but was it in his last start for the Phillies?
PHILADELPHIA -- As contract talks and trade rumors swirled around him, Cole Hamels made the 99th regular-season start of his career at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday.
He knows it's possible it could have been his last -- or at least his last wearing the uniform of the Phillies, the only team for which he's ever pitched.
But if the increasing pace of his contract negotiations and the onrushing trade deadline are weighing on him, the 28-year-old left-hander continues to hide it well.
Asked, after his team's latest, painful 6-5 loss to the Giants in 10 innings, whether he was optimistic he'd be spending the rest of his career in Philadelphia, Hamels wasn't letting on which way he thought his contract talks were heading.
"I think that's just kind of up in the air," he said, "with [Phillies general manager] Ruben [Amaro Jr.] and my agent just trying to work things out."
Behind the scenes, sources said the Phillies are increasingly upbeat about their chances of finishing a contract extension that likely would involve paying Hamels more dollars over the next six years than the Phillies have ever paid any player over the life of one contract.
But those talks took a brief intermission Saturday so Hamels could take the mound and attempt to keep the Phillies from spiraling further out of contention.
More than three hours later, Hamels was left to reflect on a strange day -- one in which he hit his first career home run, gave up a home run to opposing pitcher Matt Cain and threw a career-high 128 pitches, but ultimately let an eighth-inning lead disappear on a Melky Cabrera homer.
On his way off the mound in the eighth inning, Hamels looked around and saw the largest regular-season crowd in Citizens Bank Park history (45,989) salute him with a spirited standing ovation. So in a rare display of emotion, he flashed a quick wave before popping into the dugout.
But later, he would say that was a wave of "thank you" for the ovation, not a wave of goodbye.
Asked whether he'd spent any time thinking that Saturday might have been his final home start for the Phillies, Hamels replied, with no trace of emotion: "When I'm out there, that's not the case."
"I have to make one pitch," he said, replaying an answer he's given dozens of times this season. "I have to try to execute. I have to try to win the ballgame. That's ultimately what I've tried to stick to, no matter what. Those types of thoughts are always going to be, I guess, after the fact or after the game or in between games, when I'm not playing. But when I'm playing, it's 100 percent, everything I have, trying to win the ballgame or trying to make pitches."[p>
So, he was asked, did he think about it afterward?
"No," he replied succinctly. "I was just thinking about the home run I just gave up."
Saturday's loss left the Phillies 13 games out of first place in the National League East and 12 back in the wild-card derby, pending the results of the nightcap of a doubleheader between the Nationals and Braves. And that hole is so close to insurmountable that it appears the Phillies are on the verge of becoming trade-deadline sellers, for the first time in six years.
However, if they can get Hamels signed, that selling would just involve some of the familiar names around him -- players such as Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton and Placido Polanco, or, if the team decides to make more dramatic changes, possibly Hunter Pence or Jimmy Rollins.
It also appears likely the Phillies (now 41-54) will finish with a losing record for the first time since Hamels debuted in 2006. When he was asked whether that would affect his desire to sign with a winner, Hamels again tried to answer as diplomatically as possible.
"You don't like playing for a team that loses," he said. "But ... I know the atmosphere here is that they want to win and they want to win now. So that's always the key. The organization wants to win. The fans want to win. The players want to win. So that's ultimately what we want to stick with, and that's kind of the decision I would look to."