Hamels looks sharp as Phils down Nats

September 18, 2009

Cole Hamels is again pitching like Philadelphia's October ace.

Hamels has turned his season around down the stretch for the NL East-leading Phillies, putting himself in position for another postseason run.

Hamels took a perfect game into the sixth inning, masterfully using his changeup while matching a season high with 10 strikeouts and leading the Phillies to a 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals on Thursday night.

"I think you have to enjoy it," Hamels said. "Sometimes, the games get a little bit more meaningful. The fans know it, we know it. It's just going out there and doing what we know best."

Hamels (10-9), the MVP of last season's NL championship series and World Series, allowed one run and five hits in eight strong innings. He even chipped in with an opposite-field RBI single to help the Phillies win their fifth straight game.

"There's nothing better than pitching at home in September," he said. "The fans are great and it kind of gives you that extra motivation."

Hamels was as sharp as he's been all season and continued a sensational string of quality starts from Philadelphia's rotation. He finally ran into trouble in the seventh when he gave up a run and loaded the bases. The 25-year-old left-hander got Mike Morse to fly out and struck out Josh Bard to escape the jam.

Hamels retired the first 15 batters before Morse led off the sixth inning with a clean single to left. He quickly regrouped against the last-place Nats, striking out Bard, Jorge Padilla and Justin Maxwell to end the inning.

Hamels got some help in the fourth when third baseman Pedro Feliz made a leaping catch to rob Ryan Zimmerman, sending a spark through the crowd and ending the inning.

Zimmerman had a nice grab of his own when he made a tumbling catch over the tarp and banged his head on the railing to retire Chase Utley in the sixth.

Hamels was looking at a no-decision until the fifth. Feliz walked and scored on Jimmy Rollins' two-out double into left field for a 1-0 lead.

Hamels got ahead of hitters all night and threw 73 strikes in 109 pitches. He walked one.

"That's as good as we've seen him this year," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. "All their pitchers did very well against us this year. He had it all going tonight."

Brad Lidge gave up a run in the ninth before finishing for his 30th save in 40 chances. The Phillies (85-60) moved 25 games over .500 for the first time since they finished the 1993 season 97-65.

"We do firmly believe that we have the best team," Hamels said.

Ross Detwiler (0-6) had perhaps his finest start of the season for Washington, striking out six and allowing one run in five innings.

Nice, just not close to perfect.

Hamels struggled for most of this season until finding his way again in late August. He's 3-1 in his last five starts and has the Phillies feeling good about their rotation as they inch closer toward their third straight division title. When the Nationals scored off Hamels in the seventh, it ended a streak of 29 straight scoreless innings from the starters.

"This is the best starting pitching we've had since I've been here," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

Manuel's only gripe with Hamels was that he favored the change almost too much at the expense of his other pitches. Batters know it's coming, can wait on it and have a better chance of hitting it - sometimes.

"It can get him in a jam at times," Manuel said. "It took them a long time to get wood on it."

The Phillies scored twice in the sixth to give Hamels a cushion. Ryan Howard scored on a bases-loaded walk to Carlos Ruiz and Hamels added his run-scoring single.

Utley scored on a wild pitch in the seventh to make it 4-1.


The Nationals acquired C Jamie Burke from Seattle for cash and placed C Jesus Flores on the 60-day disabled list. ... Phillies CF Shane Victorino left in the seventh with a gastrointestinal illness. ... Nationals C Wil Nieves left with a hamstring injury. ... Phillies RHP Chan Ho Park will miss two to three weeks with a strained right hamstring. He has a 2.52 ERA in 38 relief appearances. ... Lidge marked 30 saves for the fourth time in his career.