IN PREVIOUS incarnations of himself, Cole Hamels might have felt pressed against the ropes, angry at the RBI double he had allowed to Brian McCann, frustrated with the Matt Diaz single that had found a hole in the infield. It was the second inning of his most important start of the season and the Phillies were already in a one-run hole that seemed destined to grow. With no outs and runners on the corners, there were two different directions in which the night could turn.
Two hours later, Hamels stood amid a throng of media and calmly recounted the sequence of events that led to his escape from that second-inning jam. First came a strikeout of Alex Gonzalez, the Braves shortstop who entered the night hitting .291 with 21 RBI in his last 30 games. Then came a ground ball from Melky Cabrera that Chase Utley gobbled up at second base, starting a 4-6-3 doubleplay that ended the inning.
It proved to be an early climax in a 3-1 victory.
“Because,” Hamels said after the Phillies beat the Braves to move their National League East lead to four games with 11 to play, “every run that’s going to be scored in these games is going to be huge.”
For that reason, the Phillies are thrilled with their chances of putting an early stranglehold on a division lead that 2 months ago they trailed by seven games. Last night, Hamels and his defense guarded each run with the same zeal that has characterized this recent run of success for the Phillies.