Phillies cap road trip with series win over Pirates

In one of his best starts of the season, Cole Hamels gave up five hits, walked none, and struck out eight in seven innings against the Pirates, who have the best record in baseball.
In one of his best starts of the season, Cole Hamels gave up five hits, walked none, and struck out eight in seven innings against the Pirates, who have the best record in baseball. (JUSTIN K. ALLER / Getty Images)
Posted: July 06, 2013

PITTSBURGH - It was a .500 road trip - five wins, five losses - for a team that has struggled to reach and stay above .500 the entire season.

It ended well - a 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Independence Day had the Phillies dressing happily Thursday before their flight back to Philadelphia - but it hardly meant that all is well.

"We took two out of three with a sweat," manager Charlie Manuel said inside the visitors' clubhouse at PNC Park. "That was good. We played three teams [the Padres, Dodgers, and Pirates] that were hot at the time and we ended up, what, 5-5? We hung in there and kept playing."

The events that transpired during this 10-game, 11-day trip were interesting. Ryan Howard, the player with the biggest contract on the team, was benched for two games, did not start two others, and endured an 0-for-22 stretch as he continued to be dogged by inflammation in his left knee.

Cole Hamels, the pitcher with the biggest contract, was told to take two extra days between starts to clear his mind after a start in San Diego.

"No," was Hamels' one-word answer when he was asked whether he understood why he was given extra rest before returning to the mound Thursday in Pittsburgh. "Like anybody, you just kind of listen and spill a few words of your own, and obviously I'm not the decision maker, so I have to just do what I'm told and make sure I'm ready."

He was ready. In fact, this had to rank as one of the best starts of his ill-fated season. Hamels (3-11) held the best-record-in-baseball Pirates (52-32) to five hits over seven innings. He struck out eight, did not walk a batter, and retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced.

"It was just being able to get back to what I know and establishing the strike zone early and throwing all my pitches," Hamels said after winning for just the third time in 18 starts. "I think ultimately [it was about] staying down in the zone. That's kind of where I got hurt in the past. I'd have guys right where I want them, and I wasn't able to finish them off."

Finishing was a serious problem for the Phillies (41-45) throughout this trip, which started with a blown three-run lead and a loss in San Diego. Had they won that game, the entire trip would have had a different feel. Instead, the Phillies returned home in the same condition they left - four games below .500 and well behind the first-place Atlanta Braves and top wild-card teams in the National League.

The Phillies begin a 10-game homestand Friday that will take them to the all-star break. It starts with three games against the Braves, the first of 16 games they have remaining against Atlanta.

Hamels understands the urgency with the trade deadline looming and the inconsistency that has created the conversations about the Phillies' dealing some of their most decorated veterans.

"We just have to keep playing," he said. "Otherwise, the clock ticks and serious decisions are made, and I don't want that to happen because there's a reason why I stayed here - to win. You can't take a day off because it's coming down to the wire and crunch time, so you obviously have to be a man about it and play a lot harder than I guess we have."

Hamels got rare run support in the series finale against the Pirates. The Phillies collected 14 hits, including four in the sixth, when they scored four times to erase a 2-1 deficit and knock out rookie righthander Gerrit Cole.

"That was big," Manuel said. "We did some things right and hit some balls where they weren't. It worked out for us."

Howard, after not starting Wednesday because of his sore knee, triggered the winning rally in the top of the sixth by drawing a one-out walk, which was followed by singles from Domonic Brown and Delmon Young.

Kevin Frandsen evened the score, 2-2, by blooping a base hit in front of rightfielder Jose Tabata. Carlos Ruiz followed with a two-run single, marking the first time this season he had more than one RBI in a game. After Hamels was hit by a pitch, the Phillies scored again on a Ben Revere grounder.

Hamels turned the game over to the bullpen with a four-run lead in the bottom of the eighth. The anxiety level briefly rose when Justin De Fratus surrendered two runs in the bottom of the eighth, but Jonathan Papelbon finished it with his second save of the series and 17th of the season by pitching a scoreless ninth.

Contact Bob Brookover at Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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