ATLANTA - Seven of the first eight pitches Cole Hamels threw on a sweltering Labor Day start at Turner Field landed out of the strike zone.
Five of the first 12 batters he faced reached base with a free pass: a walk or after being hit by a pitch. The only thing rising quicker than the first-pitch temperature of 88 degrees in Atlanta on Monday afternoon was Hamels’ pitch count.
"Cole wasn’t himself," manager Ryne Sandberg would say later. "Not even close."
Hamels had thrown 108 pitches as he stood in the on-deck circle in the seventh inning of a two-run game. But he also hadn’t allowed a run.
Or a hit.
But the would-he or wouldn’t-he drama, with Hamels wielding a bat and preparing to hit, would be short-lived.
Sandberg had already summoned Jake Diekman to begin throwing in the bullpen and, with two runners on base and two outs, and the Phillies offense had a chance to break open the game.
Hamels was pulled from the game, but the three relievers who followed helped preserve a no-hitter as the Phillies rolled to a 7-0 win in a holiday matinee at Turner Field. After Hamels no-hit the Braves for six innings, Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon each chipped in with perfect innings out of the ‘pen as the Phillies recorded the 12th no-hitter in franchise history.
"At this stage of the (season), it was fun to watch," said Sandberg, who never played in a no-hitter during his Hall of Fame career. "Glad to be a part of that."
Hamels, who broke into the big leagues eight years ago as a ballyhooed prospect brimming with confidence, saying he wanted to pitch multiple no-hitters in his career, appeared more than happy to share the first of his career.
"It was a whole complete team effort," Hamels said in a post game press conference, with Giles seated to his right and Papelbon and Diekman on his left. "Most of the time when you see these sort of events it’s one or two people, a great play. This really took four outstanding pitchers to go out there, a good game called by Chooch (Carlos Ruiz) and some big plays in the outfield with Marlon (Byrd). It was a full team effort and I think we all can really enjoy it that much more for what it means and what it means for the organization."
It’s Phillies first no-hitter since Oct. 6, 2010, when Roy Halladay no-hit the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the 2010 National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park. It’s the team’s first regular season no-hitter since Halladay’s perfect game that same year, on May 29, 2010 in Miami.
It’s the first ever combined no-hitter in the 132-year history of the Phillies franchise. It was the third for catcher Carlos Ruiz, one shy of the major league record (former Boston Red Sox Jason Varitek).
"I give the credit to those guys," Ruiz said of Hamels, Diekman, Giles and Papelbon. "They hit their spots. Cole struggled in the first inning, but he came back."
Hamels hardly had his best stuff. He walked the game’s first two batters, en route to tying a season-high five walks.
But against a free-swinging Atlanta, an offense that entered the game with the second fewest runs in baseball and the fourth most strikeouts, Hamels was effectively wild.
After issuing the aforementioned back-to-back walks to begin the first, Hamels responded by striking out Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton before Chris Johnson lined out to end the inning and leave both base runners stranded.
Hamels hit the first batter he faced in the second, Atlanta second baseman and West Chester native Phil Gosselin. But like the base runners before him, Gosselin was stranded, too.
"He made the pitches when he had to," Sandberg said.
In the third, Hamels walked two of the first three batters, but escaped that frame unscathed, too, thanks to a little help from his right fielder. Marlon Byrd sprinted in and made a diving catch of a line drive off the bat of Chris Johnson to end the inning.
"It was nice I brought my glove because I didn't have my bat today," said Byrd, who went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.
"Right guy in the right place," Sandberg said. "Huge."
Byrd’s catch was the second of eight straight batters Hamels would retire between the third and fifth innings. But after striking out Emilio Bonifacio to end the fifth, his second straight perfect inning, Hamels’ pitch count had risen to 92.
Hamels’ uneven start carried into the sixth, when he walked Freeman to begin the inning and then dialed up a 94-MPH fastball to get Justin Upton swinging for the second time. Johnson followed with a strikeout, too - Hamels’ seventh of the day.
When Hamels got the next batter, Gosselin, to fist a weak pop out to second base, he had managed to keep the no-hitter intact. But he was also eight pitches over the century mark with his team holding a 2-0 lead.
"I understood coming around the sixth inning it was going to be a short game," Hamels said. "Understanding the situation and what was going on, I wasn’t really too worried about it. We’re really just trying to win the game. I have the utmost respect and faith in the bullpen because they’ve been outstanding all year."
After Ruiz grounded out to shortstop for the second out of the seventh inning, Hamels trotted out to the on-deck circle. But he had already had a conversation with Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure.
When Cody Asche was walked, Hamels knew what was coming: he was pulled back to the dugout for a pinch hitter.
"He was pretty well spent there," Sandberg said. "The early innings had something to do with it, the stressful inning, stranding the runners at second and third, and a couple times runners at third base. He wasn’t going to go nine."
In place of Hamels, Grady Sizemore walked to load the bases and Ben Revere collected three of his career-high five RBI with a bases-clearing triple to put the Phillies up 5-0.
The suddenly-comfortable lead and the no-hit bid was turned over to Diekman.
"I was running in and looking up at the scoreboard because they normally have who was due up," Diekman said. "And that’s the first time I realized (the no-hitter). And I was like, ‘All right.’"
Diekman struck out two of the three batters he faced in the bottom of the seventh. Giles followed, continuing his remarkable rookie year by striking out all three batters he faced in the eighth.
"A once in a lifetime experience," Giles called it. "I’m happy to be a part of this team and these three guys right here."
In the ninth, the closer took over in a non-closing situation, because Papelbon said he wanted to pitch after throwing just once in the previous five days.
Jose Constanza hit a lazy fly ball to Domonic Brown for the first out. Chris Johnson followed with a slow comebacker that got through Papelbon, but got to Rollins in time, as the Gold Glove shortstop fired to first for out No.2.
"I thought about catching that ball, but I left Jimmy take it," said Papelbon, who threw two no-hitters as a high school starter at Bishop Kenney in Jacksonville, Fla. "It’s the little things like that. You’ve got to have a little bit of luck to get a no-hitter."
All that stood in the way was Gosselin, a 2007 graduate of Malvern Prep.
"I grew up watching those guys," the Atlanta infielder said. "It’s weird playing against them now and being a part of the no-hitter. It (stinks) being on this side of it, for sure."
Gosselin took three pitches from Papelbon before lacing a line drive toward the right side of the diamond. But the ball landed in the waiting glove of Darin Ruf, inserted on the right side of the infield with Freddy Galvis for defense in the ninth, to clinch the 12th no-hitter in Phillies history.
"It’s nice to be able to see what we’re able to do together," Hamels said of the team’s crowning achievement in a lost season. "It was fun to be able to watch them and create something very special."
The game ball will be delivered to team president David Montgomery, who took a medical leave of absence last week after battling cancer earlier this season.