For three-plus hours on a picture-perfect autumn night, he made the slimmest of leads seem like the widest of chasms. He held the top-scoring team in the National League scoreless for nine innings, scattering five hits, walking none, and striking out nine while leading the Phillies to their first-ever postseason series sweep.
"He definitely has a fire in his eye this year," leftfielder Raul Ibanez said. "He definitely has a determination. He was determined last year, but this year, he looks like he's determined every time he goes out there. He's very aggressive, he pounds the strike zone. He's always had a lot of confidence, but he's pitching confidently all year."
The Phillies, who won all five of their potential clinchers in their two previous postseason runs, needed every ounce of the effort to celebrate another trip to the NLCS, which begins Saturday at Citizens Bank Park against either Atlanta or San Francisco.
Limited to an unearned run in the first inning, their sixth such run of the series, and a solo home run by Chase Utley in the fifth, the Phillies instead adhered to the gameplan they employed throughout their World Series run in 2008. That postseason, Hamels led them to victories in all five of his starts, allowing just seven runs in 35 innings while winning Most Valuable Player honors in the NLCS and World Series. Which made his struggles in 2009 all the more unfathomable. Last October, he failed to complete six innings in any one of his four starts, allowing 16 runs in 19 innings while showing increasing signs of frustration.
But he arrived at spring training with a new pitch and a new offseason routine, and by the end of this season the results were evident: a career-low 3.06 ERA, a career-high 211 strikeouts, and a renewed focus that left teammates raving.
"He just seemed determined to get back to where he was," first baseman Ryan Howard said.
It ended with a strikeout of former Phillie Scott Rolen, but the climactic play came against the batter before, when Hamels used his 115th pitch of the night to get NL MVP frontrunner Joey Votto to ground into a doubleplay while representing the tying run.
"A big swing and you are in a tie game and now you are in a dogfight," said Roy Halladay, whose no-hitter in Game 1 helped set the stage for Hamels' complete-game shutout. "To make a pitch there and get a doubleplay there, that's impressive. For a starter to do that at the end of the game, it was awesome."
The early clinch gives Hamels, Halladay and the rest of the Phillies 5 days to rest before opening up the National League Championship Series.
They will not learn the identity of their opponent until tonight at the earliest. That's when the Braves and Giants play Game 4 of the other division series in Atlanta. A win by the Giants, who lead two-games-to-one, would secure their berth. A win by the Braves, and the series will head to a decisive fifth game on Wednesday in San Francisco.
Dating back to the start of the 2008 season, the Phillies are 9-10 against the Giants, including 6-6 this season. Of those 19 games, they have scored fewer than four runs in 12. They have struggled particularly at AT & TT Park, where they have lost seven of their last nine while averaging 2.8 runs per game.
Meanwhile, the Phillies have defeated the Braves in five of their last six games, including a pivotal sweep of a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park in late September that propelled them to the National League East title.
"This is just the first step to getting to where we want to be, and achieving what we want to achieve," Howard said.
With performances like the one they witnessed last night, that goal looks all the more reachable.
Chase Utley's home run in the top of the fifth on an 0-1 count carried just over the wall in right-centerfield. A Reds fan prevented centerfielder Drew Stubbs from attempting a highlight-reel, over-the-fence grab, reaching up to catch the ball as Stubbs' glove hung in the air. It was reviewed, but quickly upheld. Utley is now first in Phillies history with 10 career postsason home runs. He had been tied with Jayson Werth . . . Cole Hamels joins Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling as the only three pitchers in club history to throw a postseason shutout . . . Carlos Ruiz' single in the second inning extended his streak to 23 consecutive postseason games of reaching base safely . . . Placido Polanco singled to snap an 0-for-22 skid in his last six postseason games . . . The Phillies are 4-0 on the road when Hamels pitches in the postseason.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese. Follow him on Twitter at