ATLANTA -- Jimmy Rollins swatted a 95-mph fastball, and his eyes widened when the torque forced his head upward. "Finally," Rollins said. He stood near home plate to watch a two-run homer land in the first row of seats at Turner Field. Cole Hamels, with his left arm wrapped in a white towel, had his support.
For six innings, an eventual 2-1 win over the first-place Braves resembled the most fitting of Hamels starts. He was electric, throwing near-perfect stuff at Atlanta, while his teammates mounted failure after failure at the plate. But, sometimes, these Phillies are permitted moments to savor.
"He wanted run support," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said, smiling. "We'll give him run support."
A night like Saturday is why, barring a monumental offer, the Phillies will retain Hamels beyond July 31. He is the cornerstone, the 30-year-old ace for a team that must rebuild. He threw fastballs on 34 of his first 36 pitches, did not rely on his devastating change-up until later, and cruised. It was the best he threw all season.
"I think so," Hamels said. "Mentally, I was pretty clear and everything just felt really easy. I had a good understanding of where it was going to go when it left my hand."
The trade deadline is 11 days from Sunday. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was as cagey as ever Saturday, a sign that business is developing. The Phillies have held discussions with multiple teams on multiple players, just as they do every July. Their situation calls for activity.
"I'm not going to go through a trade-deadline discussion every day," Amaro said, in his first public comments since before the All-Star break. "The only thing I can tell you is we're going to try to do what we can to improve our club. That's my standard answer; I'll probably end up saying it 30,000 times. That's it. That's all I've got."
Is there interest in Amaro's players?
"All we're going to try to do is improve the club," he said.
Is he confident he can do that?
"We'll try our hardest," Amaro said. "That's our job, whether it's July 31, Aug. 15, or Sept. 30, or Nov. 15."
Jonathan Papelbon, one player Amaro would like to move, required just five pitches for a pristine ninth inning and his 23d save in 25 chances. He has a 1.17 ERA. One potential destination for Papelbon disappeared Friday, when the Los Angeles Angels surrendered four prospects for San Diego closer Huston Street.
For Hamels, there were signs of dominance well before the first pitch at 7:12 p.m. "He was lights-out," rookie catcher Cameron Rupp said of Hamels' pregame bullpen session.
Hamels did not allow a hit until there were two outs in the fifth. Tommy La Stella jumped a first-pitch, 93-m.p.h. fastball that bisected the plate and skipped into left for a double.
The lefthander dominated until the seventh. Justin Upton doubled. Chris Johnson smoked one that ricocheted off Chase Utley's glove and into left field for a run. Johnson, the tying run, sprinted to second. That is when Hamels turned to his trusted weapon, the change-up.
"I know it's my out pitch," Hamels said, "but when you're not even able to go to your best pitch and you're getting them out, the confidence builds from there."
La Stella worked a full count. Hamels buried a change-up, and the rookie whiffed. It was a good night.
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