The 90th strike fired by Cole Hamels was an 85-mph changeup that darted to a precise spot, low and away from Michael Morse. The San Francisco outfielder flailed at Hamels' signature offering. Hamels, who has the innate skill every fifth day to temporarily suspend the frustration of a $190 million payroll, walked with purpose to the dugout.
His start, a 2-1 Phillies win, concluded with eight masterful innings. Hamels has expressed his dismay with this underachieving roster but casts himself as a helpless participant. He can control what comes from his left hand, nothing else.
"It's just about going out there," Hamels said, "and 1/8being3/8 able to compete and have a little extra adrenaline and anger, trying to prove a point."
Consider it proven. Hamels has a 1.74 ERA since June 1. He overcame the biceps tendinitis and arm fatigue that dogged him during spring training. He estimated his last outing, seven innings of one-run ball at Atlanta, marked his best effort of 2014. He topped it Thursday.
The left-hander did not throw his 20th ball until his 91st pitch. He pumped the strike zone with 94- and 95-mph fastballs. He pitched on a different level, one that again excused him from the malaise that infects these Phillies. They have won two of their last nine games, both of which were 2-1 decisions with Hamels on the mound.
"He really has been consistent," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He has pitched like an ace. When we get him some runs -- obviously that has lacked in some of his outings -- but a little run support and where he is at right now, he's at the top of his game."
Hamels threw one of his fastballs at 96.2 mph, according to PITCHf/x data. That was the hardest pitch he has thrown since 2010.
"It was coming out the right way," Hamels said, "and I didn't have to put as much effort into each pitch."
His teammates provided support in the form of two unearned runs. One scored with the assistance of a passed ball. The decisive run scored in the fifth because Ben Revere reached on a two-base error by Morse and scored on a Chase Utley single.
Jonathan Papelbon, booed as he entered his third game in three days, converted the save with an effortless 10 pitches. He used 55 pitches in the previous two nights to allow four runs.
Papelbon, who has not hidden his desire for a trade, could be stuck in Philadelphia. Teams are reluctant to absorb his generous salary or to surrender talent in exchange for money and Papelbon's services. The Tigers and Angels have filled their closer needs.
Papelbon said he would not mind remaining in Philadelphia. But it is not his preference. He is sure to hear boos again.
"I just think it's fun," Papelbon said. "It brings a little bit of energy and life to the ballpark. It gives me a little bit of something to look forward to every day."
Like a good villain, Papelbon does not mind angering his constituency.
"I mean, you have to be able to take it if you want to dish it out," Papelbon said. "I think that goes both ways for me and the fans. It's kind of like a big brother-little brother relationship, I would say."
And which is he?
"Big brother," Papelbon said.
Hamels, a far less divisive figure, maintained no regret in his decision to re-sign with the Phillies two years ago.
"I love what I do," Hamels said. "Since I only have to do it every five days, sometimes I feel like it's not enough. Each day I'm putting in the work and the time so on that fifth day I can go out and have to results that I want."
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