ATLANTA -- Ryne Sandberg is not known for being the master of quips, but he did get off a pretty good one after Cole Hamels picked up his fourth win of the season in a tight 2-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night (see Instant Replay).
“He wanted run support, we’ll give him run support,” the Phillies' manager said with a laugh.
The Phillies are known for leaving well-pitched games by Hamels on the table because they don’t score consistently for the 30-year-old left-hander.
This was another occasion when the Phils didn’t score much behind Hamels. (Or much behind anyone for that matter. The Phils have scored two or fewer runs in 35 of their 97 games, a big reason they are 11 games under .500.) They left 10 men on base and did not score until the seventh inning when Jimmy Rollins drove a two-run homer into the right-field seats with Grady Sizemore (three hits and a walk) on base.
Those two runs were enough thanks to Hamels and relievers Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon, who combined on the final six outs. Paplebon recorded his 23rd save on five pitches.
“Cole was filthy,” Rollins raved after the game. “Watching him I was thinking, ‘This guy might throw a no-hitter. We can’t let him lose this game. That wouldn’t be right.’"
By his own estimation, Hamels had his best stuff of the season. He has been trying to sink (two-seam) his fastball more lately and the movement on that pitch was excellent. He also had a good curveball and cutter. That mix was so good that he didn’t have to use his bread-and-butter changeup all that much.
“When you’re getting ahead and getting them out and you don’t even have to go to your best pitch, the confidence just builds from there,” Hamels said.
Hamels did not allow a hit until Tommy La Stella doubled to the gap in left-center with two outs in the fifth inning. Hamels took a two-hit shutout into the seventh before allowing a pair of hits and a run. He exited after that inning. In all, he gave up just four hits, walked none and struck out nine.
Rollins wasn’t the only one to comment that Hamels had potential no-hit stuff.
Catcher Cameron Rupp saw it in the bullpen before the game.
“He was outstanding,” Rupp said. “Everything was down in the zone. From the get-go in the bullpen he was lights-out. He made my job pretty easy.
“He was able to sink and cut his fastball. When you’ve got one pitch doing two different things it’s pretty hard for anyone to put a good swing on the ball.”
Hamels credited Rupp’s work behind the plate. Rupp made his biggest contribution after Hamels had left the game. With the Phils up, 2-1, and Giles on the mound, Rupp gunned down B.J. Upton as he tried to steal second to end the eighth inning. It was a huge play and it made Sandberg look smart because he decided against pinch-hitting for Rupp with two men on base in the top of the inning because he didn’t want to lose Rupp’s defense.
Rupp’s throw was all that more impressive because he had to handle a slider in the dirt from Giles.
“He got a little bit of a late jump,” Rupp said of Upton. “If he gets a better jump, I probably don’t throw him out. Kenny was quick to the plate and he gave me a chance and he was out.”
Atlanta starter Aaron Harang pitched six shutout innings. Reliever Shae Simmons allowed a leadoff double to Sizemore in the seventh followed by Rollins’ two-run homer into the wind to right. Rollins hit the ball hard all night and finally got something to show for it with the homer.
Sizemore started in center field. He is 8 for 20 in five games with the Phillies. There’s a chance he will get the day off against lefty Alex Wood on Sunday. Sizemore missed the last two seasons because of injuries and the Phillies want to keep him healthy as they try to determine whether they believe he can help them next season.
So far, Sizemore looks like a pretty good fit.