ATLANTA — On Labor Day, Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia bullpen spread the workload on a no-hitter.
Hamels and three Phillies relievers combined on the season’s fourth no-hitter, blanking the Atlanta Braves 7-0 on Monday and giving a last-place team a reason to celebrate.
It was all the more unusual in that Hamels (8-6) left the game with his bid intact after six innings. He seemed fine with the decision, too, having already thrown 108 pitches at a hot afternoon at Turner Field.
“Just understanding the situation, every time I went out there I was battling control issues,” he said. “I wasn’t getting ahead of guys. Walking the leadoff hitter will put you in a lot of trouble, and it does. It builds up your pitch count.”
Relievers Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon each pitched a perfect inning to close out the gem. A smiling Hamels watched from the bench as they finished off what he started.
“I think having a combined no-hitter is very difficult because guys have to come right in and get the guys out, no matter what the situation is,” Hamels said. “It’s a little more dramatic to be able to see that you’re trying to play the cards as best you can against the lineup.”
Clayton Kershaw and Josh Beckett, of the Dodgers, and Tim Lincecum, of the Giants threw no-hitters earlier this year.
Manager Ryne Sandberg knew Hamels was tired and ready to come out of the game. Their discussion was a quick one.
“It didn’t take long,” Sandberg said. “He was pretty well spent there. The early innings had something to do with it. The stressful innings, stranding the runners at second and third a couple of times, but he wasn’t going to go nine. And he ran the bases the inning before.”
Papelbon was in the middle of the hugs and handshakes on the mound when it was over.
“I think it’s a cool experience,” Papelbon said. “It’s definitely been a rough go at it this year for our ballclub. Something to kind of hang our hat on for the year. Cole has been our bona fide ace for the entire the season, and it’s good to preserve those wins for our starters. Today it was preserving a no-hitter.”
Right fielder Marlon Byrd foiled the Braves’ best bid for a hit. With runners on second and third in the third inning, Byrd raced in and toward the line to make a diving catch on Chris Johnson’s slicing liner to end the inning.
“It happened at a perfect time, making that catch,” Byrd said. “Keeping him in the game, keeping us in the lead, the whole nine. It was nice.”
Johnson came close again in the ninth with a grounder up the middle. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins ranged behind the bag to make the play.
Phil Gosselin then lined out to first baseman Darin Ruf, who had taken over in the ninth for Ryan Howard, to end the game.
Hamels singled and scored in the sixth inning, and got pats of congratulations in the dugout after pitching the bottom half. He was on deck in the seventh, but Sandberg’s decision already was made when Hamels was pulled for pinch hitter Grady Sizemore.
Hamels, 30, already had impressive accomplishments on his resume – in 2008, he was the MVP of the World Series and the NL Championship Series, and he’s a three-time All-Star.
Now, the lefty can claim part of a no-no, too.
Diekman struck out two and Giles fanned three before Papelbon took over.
Kevin Millwood and five Seattle relievers teamed up to pitch the previous combined no-hitter, against the Dodgers in 2012. The first combined no-hitter came in 1917 when Babe Ruth walked the first Washington batter of the game and was ejected, and Boston Red Sox reliever Ernie Shore didn’t allow another runner.
Roy Halladay pitched the previous two Phillies no-hitters – he threw a perfect game against the Marlins in 2010, then threw a no-hitter the same year in the playoffs against Cincinnati. It was 12th no-hitter in Phillies history, and the first combined effort. The last pitcher to no-hit the Braves was Ubaldo Jimenez of Colorado in 2010.
Ben Revere tripled and drove in a career-high five runs. The leadoff man started the day with 15 RBI this season.
Hamels factored in the Phillies’ first two runs. He sacrificed a runner to third in the third inning, and led off the sixth with a single and scored from second on Rollins’ triple.
Atlanta, which had won 11 of 15, began the day 1½ games back in the NL wild-card race. Jason Heyward drew two walks and stole three bases. The struggling Braves’ offense has scored one run in the past three games.
“The game of baseball’s kind of funny,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “You feel like you’ve hit a good stride and all of a sudden you go through a stretch where you score one run in 27 innings, and you’re lucky enough to win one of those games.”
Julio Teheran (13-10) gave up five hits and five runs – two earned – with four walks in 62/3 innings. He left after Revere’s bases-loaded triple made it 5-0 in the seventh. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons’ error set up the runs.
Philadelphia has won Hamels’ past five starts against the Braves. He owns an 0.97 ERA and four victories in that span.