Cole Hamels peeked.
Not right away, of course. After getting traded on July 27, he had to get acclimated to a new city and meet new teammates. But after doing all that, and making a start or two, Hamels finally glanced at the Chicago Cubs' schedule and began counting the days to see when and where he might be pitching.
Three days stood out from the rest: Aug. 31, Sept. 1 and Sept. 2 — at Philadelphia.
"With the days off, the way that it looked was it could possibly happen," Hamels said of facing the Phillies for the first time since they traded him in 2015. "When I did look at it, I was trying to see who I would match up against. To be able to match up against [Jake] Arrieta again, Aaron Nola for the first time ever, that would have probably been a pretty good game. But at the same time, sometimes the schedule doesn't permit it to happen."
And sometimes Cubs manager Joe Maddon gets in the way, too.
Hamels threw a complete game Aug. 23 in Cincinnati and was in line to start the series finale against the Phillies on Sunday night. But with the Cubs in the midst of a stretch of 23 games without a day off, Maddon decided to temporarily go to a six-man rotation, pushing Hamels' next start to Monday in Milwaukee.
So, Hamels settled for watching from the third-base dugout Friday night and basking in a standing ovation when highlights of his final Phillies start — a no-hitter against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in 2015 — were shown on the left-field videoboard in the middle of the fifth inning.
"As much of an appreciation as I have for the city, I think they do for me. It's really mutual," said Hamels, who still has a home in the area. "This is a tremendous place to play. To win here was absolutely amazing. There aren't enough words to describe that sort of experience. This is a great organization for guys to come up in and learn about baseball. I think the fans appreciate that. It's just going out there and living in the moment for three days."
After going 5-9 with a 4.72 ERA with the Texas Rangers, Hamels is 4-0 with a 0.69 ERA in six starts with the Cubs, a turnaround he credits to improved mechanics and better fastball command. He also has the incentive of a $20 million option for 2019. If he continues to pitch well, the Cubs will think seriously about picking it up.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak took a pass on Hamels, preferring to stay out of the starting pitching market before the trade deadline. But if Hamels winds up on the free-agent market, would he consider a return to the place where he won a World Series in 2008?
"Truthfully, I think after the last month, all I'm worried about is trying to put up good numbers," Hamels said. "It's a matter of trying to get all 30 teams to want me and desire me and have a place for me on their roster more so than trying to pick or choose."
For the second time in three games, Maikel Franco began a game on the bench, as manager Gabe Kapler continues to work shortstop Scott Kingery into the lineup for defense. Asdrubal Cabrera played third base in place of Franco, who has four hits in his last 30 at-bats.
"Franco is going to be playing a ton," Kapler said. "Cabrera felt like the right matchup [against Cubs lefty Jose] Quintana, a good opportunity to get Kingery in there playing good defense. It's everything in combination."