Cole Hamels lingered in the on-deck circle Wednesday as Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen tossed four intentional balls to Andres Blanco. It was the fifth inning, and Hamels knew this ended his uninspired afternoon. He dangled his bat in disappointment.
Jake Diekman warmed in the bullpen. Later, after a 4-3 Phillies win over Seattle at Citizens Bank Park, the 27-year-old left-hander recalled how bleak his practice throws were. He could not control the baseball.
"I was panicking," Diekman said.
Then the bullpen door opened, and Phillies relievers struck out nine Mariners in the game's final four innings. Diekman and Ken Giles, the hard-throwing tandem that provides some intrigue for a last-place team, dominated. Diekman fanned four in two innings. Giles struck out the side in the eighth. Jonathan Papelbon notched his 30th save in 33 chances with two ninth-inning strikeouts.
"That's a very good combination," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "A lot of confidence with those guys."
Diekman's fastball topped out Wednesday at 99.1 mph, according to PITCHf/x data. Giles' reached 98.3 mph. Both relievers' sliders are strikeout pitches. Their efforts boosted Hamels, who threw his worst start in the season's second half but still won.
Hamels ace marveled at the bullpen's progression, especially the confidence Giles exudes.
"He definitely has the focus," Hamels said. "Nothing seems to bother him. If he had three or four bad innings before, he would completely forget about it. He would come firing. ... He's the type of guy who will be a closer for quite a long time. We have a great closer right now in Pap. To be able to be groomed by one of the best closers in the game with Papelbon, it definitely sets you up in a better situation when your time does come."
The bullpen, a source of frustration and pride in 2014, has not been this stable in the late innings for years. Papelbon, for all his warts and expensive salary, has performed at an elite level. It has provided motivation.
"Right now," Giles said, "I have tons of confidence in myself. ... It all starts with Pap, all that confidence. You build off him, how he goes about his business and how confident he is on the mound."
Giles, 23, has fanned 44 of the 108 batters (40.7 percent) to face him. He permitted a two-out double to Mariners catcher Jesus Sucre around three more strikeouts. He made two appearances in this series and struck out the side both times.
Diekman's 84 strikeouts are fourth in the majors among relievers. His 13.03 strikeouts per nine innings would rank second in team history for pitchers with at least 50 innings. (Antonio Bastardo's 14.02 mark in 2012 is the record.)
When asked why he sometimes lacks the poise he demonstrated Wednesday, Diekman said, "I don't know. I try to pitch 1/8ticked3/8 off every time. I don't know. I just want to keep that lead." While Diekman's ERA is 4.03, he has not benefited from luck. His fielding independent pitching, a metric that measures ERA based on average results on batted balls, is 2.53.
Sandberg notices a difference in Diekman's outings from the first pitch.
"When he has an edge, he pounds the zone with strikes," Sandberg said. "He tends to get a little frustrated is when he's not locating his pitches well. But he came in and was locating his fastball, working ahead of hitters, and that goes a long way with confidence."
The smallest home crowd since late June -- announced as 25,157 -- had other baseball on its mind. The Phillies hung a Taney Little League blue T-shirt in their dugout before the first pitch. The stadium was half empty when Papelbon struck out Kendrys Morales for the 27th out.
"I feel like we did our part winning Game 1 here," said Sandberg, who wore a Taney hat and shirt after his team's victory.
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