Hamels two-hits Giants in masterpiece
Displaying '08 form, lefty retires 21 straight in one stretch
PHILADELPHIA -- It was vintage Cole Hamels.
For the second consecutive start, he looked not like the pitcher who has a .500 record and an ERA over 4.00, but like the dominant All-Star left-hander who just last year was a World Series MVP.
Hamels allowed just two Giants hits en route to a shutout Tuesday night. He struck out nine and issued one walk, in the ninth inning. He threw seven 1-2-3 innings, retired 21 straight batters at one point and, for good measure, stole second base.
Philadelphia didn't fare too much better against Jonathan Sanchez, but three hits against him in six innings were enough for a 1-0 victory in front of 44,679 at Citizens Bank Park.
It was an important win for the Phillies against a potential playoff opponent. They showcased how dangerous they can be with the league's best offense and a rotation that includes Cliff Lee, J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton and an on-track Hamels.
"When we get pitching like that, we become real good, because on nights when we're not scoring and if we play good defense, we're going to handle those games, too," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "So that makes us that much better. It makes us a lot better."
Hamels has tied a career high by throwing 19 consecutive scoreless innings. That stretch -- which has lowered his ERA from 4.78 to 4.26 -- dates back to Aug. 21. He lost to a depleted Mets lineup, 4-2, that day, but the outing that served as a wakeup call. Since then, he has been pitching more relaxed.
"And all of a sudden, you're getting beat by the bench guys," Hamels said. "You have to really put things in perspective. You can't really get the 'A' guys out, and you can't even get the 'B' guys out, there must be a problem. That's when I was trying to go out there and break it down to simple and know what are the reasons why I got to the big leagues.
"I really tried not to stress myself out in going out there and trying to be too good or trying to fall into those expectations and all of sudden expecting of yourself. All I can really do is try to go out there and throw strikes and let that take care of itself. I have a team behind me. They're there for a reason. You can't strike out everybody. You can't overpower them. "
To be sure, the Giants are not offensive juggernauts. They entered play ranked 26th in runs, 27th in slugging percentage, 29th in home runs and last in on-base percentage. Two of their top hitters -- Bengie Molina and Pablo Sandoval -- did not start.
|"When we get pitching like that, we become real good, because on nights when we're not scoring and if we play good defense, we're going to handle those games, too. So that makes us that much better. It makes us a lot better."|
|-- Charlie Manuel|
Still, Hamels had little margin for error. Philadelphia manufactured a run in the fourth, when Shane Victorino hit a broken-bat flare, stole second, advanced to third on Chase Utley's groundout and scored on Ryan Howard's double down the first-base line. That was all the Phillies could muster.
So Hamels took that tiny cushion and delivered his sixth career complete game, the first with fewer than three hits. In his fourth career shutout -- and second of '09 -- Hamels faced 29 batters and threw 22 first-pitch strikes, a key component of his back-to-basics approach. His two main pitches were in synch, each building on the other to baffle San Francisco.
"He's throwing his fastball again, and that is making his changeup better," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "He's working ahead. He's not behind because his fastball is up and away at 88, 89 [mph]. He's throwing it down through the zone at 92. The changeup is following that same plane and it can be at times unhittable. He'll keep you off balance, too. In and out."
Giants first baseman Ryan Garko led off the second with a double. He did not advance past second base. He was San Francisco's only baserunner until Rich Aurilia hit a pinch-hit single in the ninth. But Andres Torres, who pinch-ran for Aurillia, was promptly picked off. Howard made a strong throw to second to complete the caught stealing, and although a pinch-hitting Sandoval walked, Hamels induced a strikeout and popup to end his masterpiece.
"He throws his fastball and changeup whenever he wants to," Garko said. "Either one, on any count."
On the heels of his season-high 123-pitch effort in Pittsburgh, Hamels threw 118 pitches Tuesday. The 241 pitches is a two-start career high.
But largely because he was not pressing, the young lefty did not appear to fatigue much.
Indeed, he had enough energy to take off for second base in the fifth -- the first Phillies pitcher to swipe a bag since Curt Schilling in 1997.
He was following the orders of first-base coach Davey Lopes, who asked him, "Have you ever slid?"
Hamels replied that he had.
"Then he's like, 'Well, go,'" Hamels said. "I'm like, 'Well, all right, because if I get caught, I'm blaming it on you."
There was no throw to second, although Hamels displayed his sliding skills -- or lack thereof -- anyway.
The Phillies were able to joke about the play, with Victorino telling Howard that the first baseman's career-high five steals might not be enough.
As Howard told it: "[Victorino] said, "Cole's coming after you."
David Gurian-Peck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.