PHILADELPHIA -- A couple of questions surfaced Tuesday night in front of a raucous crowd at Citizens Bank Park.
Could Cole Hamels' poor fortunes be changing?
If so, could it mean meaningful baseball games for the Phillies in August and September?
Hamels pitched masterfully Tuesday in a 4-2 victory over the Nationals, which moved the Phillies to within a game of .500 and 1 1/2 games of second-place Washington in the National League East. The Phillies have won six of their last eight games against the Pirates, Braves and Nationals, and can win the four-game series against the Nationals with a victory on Wednesday.
"I think that was something we haven't seen all year," Hamels said of the energetic crowd of 33,502. "That was the most exciting eighth inning I've had in a long time, especially with it not being a sellout. It felt like there were 60,000 fans, so that was awesome to see that from the fans on every pitch. Definitely brought the energy level back."
There can be more of this if the Phillies keep winning.
Hamels, who allowed six hits and one run in eight innings, carried a 4-1 lead into the eighth when Scott Hairston and Ian Desmond hit back-to-back singles with one out. Hamels then walked Bryce Harper to load the bases. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel strolled to the mound at that point, but he had no plans to remove Hamels from the game.
"We knew Cole was staying in," Michael Young said.
"He wanted to give me a mental breather," Hamels joked.
That is a direct reference to Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee pushing back Hamels' previous start two days to give him a "mental break," something that Hamels said he did not need -- despite a nightmarish start to his season.
"I said, 'I'm not out here to take you out. I came out here to look at you,'" Manuel said. "He kind of grinned. I said, 'You got him?' He said, 'I got him.' That's good, really. He kind of grinned at me and said, 'I got him.' That was good."
Hamels struck out Ryan Zimmerman on three pitches before he engaged in a great battle with Jayson Werth, who homered off him in the second inning. Hamels got ahead, 0-2, when Werth ripped a 92-mph fastball back foul to keep the at-bat alive. Hamels then fell behind, 3-2, before he got Werth to fly out deep to center fielder Ben Revere to end the inning.
"Big-time battle," Manuel said. "That's what baseball is all about. Werth came close, but no cigar."
Said Hamels about his former teammate: "He and I were playing the guessing games the whole game. He definitely got me that first at-bat, so it had made me more aware to really be careful of him. He's been here, he's seen me a ton, I've seen him a ton. It's a serious guessing game and a serious chess match we have between us."
The Phillies took advantage of some breaks throughout the night. They tied the game in the fourth when Chase Utley hit a two-out double to right-center field and Domonic Brown followed with a sinking line drive to Werth. He threw to the plate, but the throw short-hopped Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki, who could not come up with the ball as Utley slid home safely.
Instant replay showed Utley completely missed the plate, but the Phillies took it.
They happily took another break in the sixth. Revere and Jimmy Rollins hit back-to-back singles to get things started. Utley then bounced a ball to first baseman Adam LaRoche, who threw to second base. But the throw hit Rollins' right arm as he slid into second. The ball ricocheted away from Desmond into the outfield to allow Revere to score and put runners at the corners with no outs.
"It was unbelievable baserunning," Desmond said. "That's really good wherewithal."
Young then ripped a one-out double to right-center field to score Rollins and Utley to make it 4-1.
Hamels (4-11, 4.17 ERA) took care of the rest, winning back-to-back starts for the first time since his final two outings last season.
If Hamels is getting his mojo back, the Phillies could be getting a dominant 1-2 punch atop their rotation along with Cliff Lee, who pitches Wednesday. It could help them make a run at the first-place Braves. Since Atlanta started the season 12-1, it is 40-37, while the Phillies are 39-38 and the Nationals are 38-38.
"That would mean that we definitely have a chance to win two games in a series," Manuel said when asked about Hamels and Lee getting on a roll together. "That's what that means. And I'd get my regular sleep."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.