Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Youth Over Experience: Hamels Bests Maddux

When Cole Hamels left tonight's Phillies game, he had gone 7 1/3 innings on less than 100 pitches. This was his longest outing of the season and one of his most efficient, so it was only appropriate that he beat his boyhood idol, Greg Maddux, as the Phillies defeated the Padres 7-4.

Hamels has pitched well all season, to the tune of a 2.70 ERA, but he entered with a 2-3 record due to poor run support. This time, the Phillies gave him a little help, right from the start. In the bottom of the first, Eric Bruntlett walked, then stole second, and Ryan Howard drove him in with a two-out single, giving Philadelphia a 1-0 lead. In the third, Jayson Werth hit a stand-up triple to deep right field and Bruntlett delivered again, bringing Werth home with a single to make it a 2-0 game.

Hamels was practically untouchable in the early going, allowing only one hit until the fifth inning. Then, with two outs, Scott Hairston hit a deep fly ball that sailed over the left field wall and cut the Phillies' lead in half. However, in the seventh, Hamels helped his own cause, hitting a one out single that advanced Carlos Ruiz from first to third. The next batter, Werth, hit a sacrifice fly that scored Ruiz and brought the lead back to two runs.

In the eighth inning, which had been uncharted waters for Hamels, trouble arose. Hairston doubled over Werth's head and then moved to third on a Josh Bard groundout. Tony Clark came in to pinch hit and worked a full count before drawing a walk. With the tying run on base, Charlie Manuel went to the bullpen, bringing in J.C. Romero to face Brian Giles. However, Romero's control was off and Giles walked, loading the bases.

With two right-handed hitters coming up, Manuel pulled Romero and summoned Tom Gordon. A few weeks ago, this would have been terrifying, but Gordon has really improved since his Opening Day meltdown. Former Phillie Tadahito Iguchi stepped to the plate and promptly grounded to short, scoring Hairston in the process. Then, with the winning run in scoring position, Kevin Kouzmanoff grounded to second, and the Phillies held on to a 3-2 lead.

Glendon Rusch came in for San Diego to pitch the bottom of the eighth, but Chase Utley greeted him with his tenth double of the season. Rusch struck out Howard, then intentionally walked Pat Burrell, with the left-handed Geoff Jenkins on deck. Burrell was immediately pulled for pinch runner So Taguchi. Manuel would no doubt have preferred to say "Bohn Voyage" to Burrell, but T.J. is back in the minors.

His replacement, Shane Victorino, fresh off the disabled list, came in to pinch hit for Jenkins, which caused the Padres to bring in right-handed Kevin Cameron. Cameron got Victorino to fly out, but the next batter, Pedro Feliz, hit an RBI single to right field. Utley scored and Feliz advanced to second base on the throw home. Next up was Ruiz, who doubled to score Taguchi and Feliz. Then pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs followed with a double of his own, plating Ruiz. Werth flew out to end the inning, but the Phillies went to the ninth with a 7-2 lead.

With a secure lead, Brad Lidge got the night off and Manuel turned to Ryan Madson to finish the game. Adrian Gonzalez led off the inning with a single, but Madson got the next two batters out. Scott Hairston stepped in and made things interesting with a home run to left, his second of the game, to make bring the Padres within three runs. But all it did was pad Hairston's stats, as Bard struck out to end the game.

The win brought the Phillies' record to 15-12 and, combined with Florida's 6-7 loss, put Philadelphia just half a game out of first place in the NL East. A Phillies win and a Marlins loss tomorrow would put Philadelphia in first place in the division going into May for the first time since 2001. Win or lose, the Phillies will leave April over .500, which they haven't done since 2003.

While the young Hamels prevailed over the experienced Maddux tonight, tomorrow's pitching match-up will be something of a role reversal as Chris "28-years" Young takes on Jamie Moyer. After the slow starts of the last few years, first place is pretty enticing right now. Let's hope it's age before beauty tomorrow night.

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