By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 19, 2009
PHILADELPHIA -- Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The Washington Nationals lost on Thursday night because Cole Hamels decided they would.
For eight innings and 109 pitches, he did on a mound what others do from thrones. Toeing the rubber, 10 inches above the playing field, Hamels showed why great pitching is baseball's most imperial weapon. Few of the Nationals who dug into the batter's box against Hamels looked like batters; instead, they were observers, obeying his commands, watching the 91 mph heat, waving at the 80 mph change-up and leaving when told.
In one of the most commanding pitching performances against Washington this season, Hamels permitted a single run in eight five-hit innings, leading the Phillies to a 4-2 victory at Citizens Bank Park and securing the series sweep. Hamels held a perfect game until the sixth, when Mike Morse sneaked a single between short and third. He held a shutout until the seventh. Most important, he never let go of his grip on a struggling lineup, and by the end of the night, the Nationals could only say this much: The Phillies look playoff-ready. And Hamels, who dealt with a substandard season until the last month, now looks ready to lead them.
"I think that's as good as we've seen him this year," interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "It seems he's getting hot at the right time for the Phillies as they go toward the postseason. He really was good. He had it all going."
Perhaps anybody with an intuition and a stat book could have seen this coming. In one corner: Hamels, the reigning World Series MVP, armed with a 1.52 ERA in his previous four starts, blessed with asparagus limbs and the simple clout of a fastball-change combo. In the other corner: the Nationals' lineup, good for one total run in its previous two games, handcuffed by a slumping Josh Willingham and a toothless bottom of the order, getting by on this night without Adam Dunn.
The two sides got along as you might expect. Hamels, moving up and down the lineup like fingers on a piano, struck out 10. Through five, Hamels had thrown just 56 pitches, 40 strikes. By the time Washington showed any life against Hamels (10-9), getting three hits in a row in a one-run seventh, it already was too late.
"Obviously it's frustrating," catcher Josh Bard said. "We've got to do a better job of getting runs in. But he was throwing the ball about as well as I've seen him throw it."
For a while, the Nationals fought inevitability, and rookie starter Ross Detwiler kept the game scoreless until the fifth. Long-limbed with top-of-the-rotation stuff, Detwiler is like a Hamels stunt double, only younger, more prone to mistakes, and still winless in his big league career. But on this night, Detwiler, making his first start since before the all-star break, reminded the Nationals why they selected him in the first round of the 2007 draft. He overcame a 29-pitch first inning, eventually settling down to retire nine in a row.
A two-out Jimmy Rollins RBI double in the fifth broke the scoreless tie and gave Detwiler (five innings, one run, four hits) the loss, but it hardly soured his start.
"Before the all-star break, I was trying too hard to be perfect," Detwiler said. "I was able to relax."
After Detwiler left, Washington's bullpen -- hurt especially by Tyler Clippard's three walks in the sixth -- allowed three more runs, giving Philadelphia and Hamels a cushion. Philadelphia's struggling closer Brad Lidge allowed a final run in the ninth, but picked up his 30th save.
"I think that [our season] can go either two ways these next couple of days," Bard said. "We can either start shutting it down or we can finish strong. There are a lot of guys with a lot to play for this year, and if we want to start changing the culture to a winning culture in this clubhouse, we've got to do things the right way and we've got to be better."