Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hamels, Phillies finally solve Braves

PHILADELPHIA – Exactly two weeks ago today, Cole Hamels signed the richest contract in Phillies history and the second richest contract for a pitcher in baseball history.

In the time since, the Phils have fizzled further out of the potential playoff picture. They’ve traded off three regulars. They’ve peaked their heads out of the NL East cellar once, but quickly returned.
For a competitor like Cole Hamels, an All-Star who’s star has shined brightest in October, it would probably be difficult to garner any kind of energy from a game in August with little meaning in the standings. The lack of energy in the ballpark and a heavy humidity could easily suck the life out of a pitcher before he completes his first inning.
Despite his newfound riches and his team’s road to nowhere, Hamels was able to manufacture a performance on Tuesday night that was easily his best start of the season.
Hamels threw a four-hit shutout to lead the Phils to a 3-0 win over the Atlanta Braves. The victory snapped the Phillies’ seven-game losing streak in games against divisional-rival Atlanta.
They have the $144 million man to thank.
Hamels was brilliant from the outset, setting down the Braves in order in a first inning when the ball didn’t even leave the infield. Hamels allowed two singles in the first five innings, but both base runners were erased thanks to a double play ball (in the second) and a bazooka assist to nail a base runner at second from Domonic Brown (in the fifth).
Through six innings, Hamels had faced the minimum 18 batters. It was his most impressive night on the mound since October 10, 2010, when he struck out nine and walked no one in a five-hit shutout in Game 3 of the NLDS at Cincinnati, clinching the Phillies third straight trip to the National League Championship Series.
Hamels needed only 99 pitches to get through that October night at Great American Ball Park. It took him 111 pitches Tuesday night, but he wasn’t any less dominant. He struck out six, walked no one and watched the Braves barely barrel up any of his pitches.
Hamels forced weak contact – and sometimes, no contact – by mixing the precision of his fastball, which was still hitting 92 MPH in the ninth, with the sheer unhittabilty of his patented changeup. He sneaked a 91-MPH heater by Michael Bourn for the second out in the ninth after getting the Braves leadoff batter flailing on back-to-back changeups.
The win was Hamels’ 12th of the season and first since July 15. He lowered his ERA from 3.34 to 3.14, which ranks 11th best in the National League.
While the Braves couldn’t even advance a runner past first, the Phillies scored three times in the first inning to give Hamels all of the offense he would need.
After Jimmy Rollins and Domonic Brown hit back-to-back doubles to begin the inning, Ryan Howard launched a two-run home run. The home run was the struggling slugger’s fifth of the season.
Howard finished the night 1-for-4 with three strikeouts.


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