WASHINGTON - For the better part of three months, Cole Hamels has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. If the Phillies lefthander had more offensive support, he would have a record to match his mound excellence.
Hamels allowed just one unearned run in seven innings Sunday at Nationals Park, but it was enough to make him a .500 pitcher, a true injustice.
For the second straight game, the Phillies were held scoreless in a 4-0 loss to the Washington Nationals. They have gone 21 straight innings without a run.
"He just attacks the hitters," manager Ryne Sandberg said of Hamels. "He has been on quite a roll doing that."
Hamels is a World Series and NL Championship Series MVP and a three-time all-star, so he has had plenty of impressive rolls during his career. Individually, he ranks this period with some of his best.
"I think [as far as] consistency, it definitely is," Hamels said.
In his last 17 starts, including Sunday, Hamels has a 1.79 ERA. He has made 20 starts and the Phillies have scored two or fewer runs in eight of them.
He departed with a 1-0 deficit when Sandberg sent Reid Brignac to pinch-hit with one out and nobody on in the eighth inning. Hamels had thrown just 86 pitches, 66 for strikes.
"If we had gotten one on there we might've sacrificed him and let him stay in, but with only five outs to go we needed to try and score with the opportunities running short," Sandberg said.
Hamels said he understood the move. "I have a lot of respect for Ryne trying to win the ball game," he said.
As fate would have it, Brignac struck out. Hamels is now 6-6 with a 2.42 ERA.
The problem on this day was that Nationals righthander Stephen Strasburg, who like Hamels hails from San Diego, was even better.
In seven innings, he limited the Phillies to three hits while striking out 10.
"It's just fun anytime you get to face one of the best pitchers and definitely brings out the most in both of us, and we just try to go out there and win," Hamels said.
Washington surely didn't mind Hamels' departure. Reliever Ken Giles, who entered the game with a 0.87 ERA and was stellar in 11/3 scoreless innings Thursday, was rocked by the Nats this time.
He surrendered three runs, two earned, in just one-third of an inning. The big hits were consecutive RBI doubles by Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth.
"It was just a bad outing," Giles said. "I didn't do my job and have to bounce back next outing."
Washington scored an unearned run off Hamels in the third. Catcher Jose Lobaton hit a grounder to third that was bobbled by Cody Asche. Instead of charging the ball, Asche backed up on it. He then compounded the mistake by throwing wide to first.
After Strasburg sacrificed Lobaton to second, Denard Span, who torched the Phillies in this series, delivered a run-scoring single to center on a 1-2 fastball for Washington's first hit of the game.
Span was 7 for 15 with three runs and four RBIs in the series.
"You definitely have to tip your hat, because I made the exact pitch I wanted to in the right exact location and he was able to hit it," Hamels said.
With the way the offense is going, Hamels was afforded no margin for error.
"I wasn't able to execute the one pitch [to Span] and we weren't able to execute in time and get some timely hitting," Hamels said.
That's been the story of a season in which the pitching record is the most deceptive statistic Hamels has compiled.
BY THE NUMBERS
Cole Hamels' ERA in his last 17 starts.
Hamels' record after Sunday's loss.
Consecutive innings the Phillies have gone without scoring a run.