Hamels, who last month signed a 6-year, $144 million contract extension that will keep him with the Phillies through his 34-year-old season, pitched a magnificent, five-hit shutout against a team that is currently battling Washington for NL East supremacy. He struck out six, walked none, and allowed no extra-base hits. Thanks to a couple of doubleplays and a outfield assist from Brown, Hamels faced just 29 batters – two more than the minimum for a nine-inning game.
"To show the signs of what we have and what we have to come, I think that's a big help," said Hamels, who improved to 12-6 and lowered his ERA to 3.14. "I think ultimately that's what the organization is going to try to build around, and what the fans want to see. If we just go out there and be ourselves and play the game like we know how, we know we can win a lot of baseball games."
At 50-60, the Phillies are still 16 1/2 games out of first place in the division and 13 games out of the second wild-card spot. The real intrigue of the last couple months of the season will be the steps the team takes toward contending in 2013. The bullpen and lineup are big variables in that equation. But the continued ascendance of Hamels cannot be overlooked. Two years ago, he was labeled by many as the No. 4 starter behind Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and the now-departed Roy Oswalt. On Tuesday night, he looked like the ace, pitching at least seven innings for the 15th time this season, tied with 2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw for the most in the National League.
"I don't know if you've noticed, but Hamels, the last couple years, he's getting stronger," manager Charlie Manuel said. "As far as body strength, he's definitely getting stronger. He's getting stronger pitching, too."
The reports are similar on Brown, the 24-year-old corner outfielder who entered last season as one of the top prospects in all of baseball. In the eight games since the Phillies called him up from Triple A Lehigh Valley, he has shown impressive discretion at the plate, drawing three walks and striking out just once. One of those walks came in the third inning Tuesday, when he fell behind lefty Mike Minor 0-2, then took four straight balls to give the Phillies a leadoff baserunner.
In the first inning, Brown drove in his second run of the season, lacing a line drive to centerfield to send Jimmy Rollins home. Brown stretched the base hit into a double, although he likely would have been out at second had Martin Prado held on to Bourn's throw from center. The highlight of the night, though, was Brown's throw from the leftfield corner in the fifth inning, when he corraled a potential double and made a quick pivot before unleashing a dart to Chase Utley to easily eliminate Brian McCann, thus ending the inning.
"It was awesome," Hamels said. "To get the right bounce and for him to turn on a dime and let it fly and be as accurate as he was, that's definitely an inning stopper and a momentum changer. It was huge."
The potential of this Phillies team will be dictated as much by the health of aging stars like Utley, Ryan Howard and Halladay as by on-field performance. But if that health is there, they should have a solid infrastructure in 2013. They showed it on Tuesday night.
Contact David Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @HighCheese. For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read his blog at www.philly.com/HighCheese.