Cole Hamels celebrates with teammates after the Phillies completed a three-game sweep of the Braves with a 3-2 win on Sunday. (AP)
The lasting image from the Phillies’ 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday afternoon will probably be Evan Gattis’ cannon-shot home run over everything in center field in the second inning.
The ball came down an estimated 484 feet from home plate, making it the longest home run in Citizens Bank Park’s 10-year history.
Gattis, a burly catcher/outfielder who earned the nickname Oso Blanco -- the White Bear -- during winter ball in Venezuela, actually hit two home runs Sunday. They were the only hits that the Braves had and both came against Cole Hamels (see Instant Replay).
The 484-foot blast came with the wind blowing in. It spawned such quotes as this:
Hamels: “I felt like I was throwing a golf ball and he had a driver.”
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg: “A tornado might have been blowing and that first one might have gone out. That was dead into the teeth.”
Gattis downplayed the mammoth home run because the Braves lost the game. He had a point. Because as exciting as it was to see Gattis send a ball onto Ashburn Alley, it was really just a footnote to the afternoon.
Hamels was the story.
So was Darin Ruf.
And B.J. Rosenberg wasn’t bad, either.
Hamels delivered eight innings of two-hit, two-run ball. He appeared to be on his way to a no-decision after allowing Gattis’ second homer of the day, a game-tying shot in the seventh, when Ruf put him in the winner’s circle with a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth. Closer Jonathan Papelbon got the day off because of his recent heavy workload. The save opportunity went to Rosenberg, and he delivered on nine strikes. It was his first big-league save.
In a few weeks, the Phillies will pack up and head home with their first losing season since 2002. The Braves will roll into the playoffs as NL East champs. But on this weekend, the Phils were the better team. They swept the Braves and held them to just 12 hits in the series. Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick and Hamels, the Phils’ three starting pitchers, combined to allow just eight hits and six runs in 22 innings.
Not too shabby.
“They are a benchmark for where we need to be,” Sandberg said of the Braves. “We rose to the occasion and played good baseball in all aspects. Starting pitching, good defense and timely hitting in all three games. It’s something to build on.”
Hamels has been the victim of poor run support all season. He entered Sunday receiving just 3.36 runs per game, the fifth-lowest among major-league starters.
Sandberg was thrilled with Ruf’s go-ahead homer because this was a game that Hamels deserved to win.
“Hamels was outstanding,” Sandberg said. “It’s about time he got a late-inning run to get the W.”
Ruf has 13 homers in 188 at-bats. He had an excellent at-bat leading up to his go-ahead poke. He fell behind Atlanta reliever David Carpenter 0-2 and worked the count full before launching a drive into the right-field seats.
Hamels, on the receiving end of two solo homers by Gattis, was impressed with Ruf’s homer.
“That was a really good at-bat he put together,” Hamels said. “He got down and worked all the way back and got a ball to hit and made a difference with it.”
Hamels kept his team in the game all day as he waited for a big hit. The lefty walked just two and struck out nine. For the season, Hamels is 7-13 with a 3.45 ERA in 30 starts. But he’s been better than that. After losing his first two starts of the season, one to the Braves on opening day, Hamels is 7-11 with a 3.03 ERA in his next 28 starts. He has allowed 166 hits in 190 1/3 innings over that span, walked 40 and struck out 176.
That’s a pretty good season.
Hamels is up to 23 quality starts, third-most in the NL, yet he is just 7-7 in those games.
During the first half of the season, Hamels often put pressure on himself to personally lift the Phillies from their doldrums. He tried to be perfect every time out and that can’t be done. In the second half, he’s relaxed more, had more fun and let his natural ability take over. He needs to do that next year if the Phils are to bounce back and contend.
For now, the Phillies are winning some games. The sweep of Atlanta left them at 13-10 under Sandberg.
“Winning games is what we’re trying to do,” Hamels said. “It’s something to build on for next year.”