WASHINGTON -- The Phillies have their next great rival.
Cole Hamels cemented that when he drilled a 93-mph fastball into the small of Bryce Harper's back in the bottom of the first inning in Sunday's 9-3 victory over the Nationals at Nationals Park. Washington won the first two games of the three-game series, looking hungrier, younger and more energetic than the Phillies.
The Nationals had swagger. Hamels wanted it back.
"I was trying to hit him," admitted Hamels, who allowed one run over eight innings to improve to 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA. "I'm not going to deny it. I'm not trying to injure the guy. They're probably not going to like me for it, but I'm not going to say I wasn't trying to do it. I think they understood the message, and they threw it right back. That's the way, and I respect it. They can say whatever they want."
The Phillies had their manhood questioned this weekend. The Nationals are 18-10 and stand alone in first place in the National League East. Meanwhile, the Phillies have scuffled -- holding a 14-15 record, good for last place in the division.
The Phillies might have played without Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cliff Lee this series, but the Nationals played without Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse.
"Usually, it seems that the Phillies aren't that hyped up to come play us," Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond said. "I think they realized that they needed to step up a little bit, and that's nice. It's nice to have that feeling of, 'Hey, they're intense over there.' Usually when we play them, they're not. And I think they realize we've got a good ballclub, and they needed to kind of take it up a notch."
Hamels certainly decided he needed to step up.
Asked earlier in his postgame interview if he sent a message with his pitch to Harper, he said, "No."
Asked if he might have been trying to get some mojo back for his team, he said, "No."
"If I was getting swagger back for our side, I think I'd have to drill quite a few people because you're in their home ballpark," Hamels said. "It's just, 'Welcome to the big leagues.' And I think he kind of did that for me."
Harper moved from first to third on Jayson Werth's single -- Werth later broke his left wrist and is expected to miss at least six weeks -- to left and stole home when Hamels made a pickoff throw to first base. Harper showed his hustle taking the extra base on the single to left. He showed his baseball IQ when he timed Hamels' move to first. Having it timed perfectly, he took a nice lead at third and bolted for home when Hamels threw to first again.
He scored easily for the first stolen base of his career.
"It's impressive," Hamels said of Harper. "He's got a lot of talent. He's going to be a really good ballplayer. He's got a lot of energy. To be able to steal home and stretch a single into a double on one of the hits, if he keeps continuing to do that, he's really going to make a really good name for himself."
Harper had little reaction when told Hamels threw at him intentionally.
In fact, he chuckled.
"He's a great pitcher," Harper said.
Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann hit Hamels with a pitch in the third inning, which resulted in a warning to both benches. Unlike his counterpart, Zimmermann said he had no intention of hitting Hamels at all.
Hamels said he expected to be hit.
"That's baseball," Hamels said. "I'm kind of happy that's the way it works, because that's the way it should. I don't think the umpires should interfere with it. Let baseball be baseball. I grew up playing the game hard and watching it. That's the way it was. I'd hate for them to change it, which has kind of happened in recent years. Just let it play out and then we get back to playing. That's just the way it is, and I'm not going to argue with it."
Hunter Pence paced the Phillies' offense with a pair of two-run home runs, but the night belonged to Hamels, Harper and the birth of a new rivalry. The Phillies have not had one with such potential since the New York Mets back in 2007 and '08.
It is the five-time defending division champion Phillies vs. the youthful and immensely talented Nationals.
It should be fun -- and it should only get better after Sunday.
"Yeah, I think it could be a really good rivalry," Hamels said. "We're so close. Our fans can drive down, their fans can drive up. Their team is starting to peak into a really good, competitive team. The Mets have gone the other direction and the Nationals have come up. It's going to be really exciting to see. We have 15 more games against them, and it's going to be a really good series."