Hamels has been unofficially No. 3 or No. 4 on the Phillies' depth chart of aces since Cliff Lee rejoined the Phillies in December 2010. He opened last season behind Halladay, Lee and Roy Oswalt. He opened this season third behind Halladay and Lee. But Hamels has been unarguably the best of the three this year, and he came up big again in an 8-4 victory over the New York Mets at Citi Field on Monday.
The Phillies (26-24) have won 11 of their last 16 games and are tied for fourth place in the National League East. It is the first time the Phillies have not been in sole possession of last place since May 4.
"We're not going to stay in last," Charlie Manuel promised.
Hamels allowed four runs in eight innings -- two bad pitches up in the strike zone cost him a pair of two-run home runs -- but he made critical pitches at the right time to get out of an eighth-inning jam to save the day. Phillies first baseman Ty Wigginton took care of the rest, going 3-for-3 with a double, home run, two walks and a career-high six RBIs.
The Phillies needed this victory after a couple bad losses Sunday. Not that Hamels, who became the Majors' first eight-game winner (just ahead of St. Louis' Lance Lynn), put more pressure on himself to make it happen.
"I'm just trying to keep the same approach that I have," Hamels said. "I try to go out and win as many games as I can. I'm trying to go deep into the ballgame and, obviously, not allow as many runs. I think that's going to be the same approach that [Joe] Blanton and Cliff and [Kyle Kendrick] and whoever now has to fill the role of Doc [all take]. But we know that our goal is to really go out there and make pitches and not worry about anything else. We're not going to put any added stress onto what we already have to do."
For what it is worth, Hamels seemed optimistic about Halladay's future following Sunday's ominous news.
"He's a battler," he said. "Shoot, he's had more work than anybody in this game. If you can go out every season and pitch 250 innings, he's the best. It's just one of those things where I think the team is trying to be cautious. He works harder than anybody I've ever seen, so he's going to get back out there as fast as he can to help the team. I don't think it's too serious, because I play catch with him every day."
Phillies fans hope he is right.
Knowing Halladay could be sidelined seemed like a bad way to board a flight from St. Louis to New York on Sunday, but Wigginton said the team remained upbeat.
"It's a veteran club," Wigginton explained. "A lot of guys understand these kinds of things happen throughout the year. We all understand that there's times guys need to step up. Just play baseball. It's a long season. We're going to have a few more little things that pop up throughout the year. That's just the way the baseball season works."
Wigginton stepped up. Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese allowed just two hits through five-plus innings, but they were big ones. Niese walked Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino with two outs in the third before Wigginton doubled to clear the bases and the Phillies a 2-0 lead. Wigginton walked to begin the sixth before John Mayberry Jr. hit a two-run homer to left to make it 4-2.
Wigginton then hit a 100-mph fastball from Bobby Parnell for a single with two outs in the seventh inning to score Jimmy Rollins to give the Phillies a 5-4 lead.
"It was a 3-2 count, and you're trying to make sure he gets you a strike," Wigginton said. "You want to take your walk if he's going to allow. He left one right there, and fortunately I was able to get it up the middle. That was definitely the goal."
Wigginton added insurance with a three-run home run to left field in the ninth inning.
The game might have been different had Hamels not held the lead in the eighth.
Mayberry didn't hustle to a ball hit to left-center field in the bottom of the frame to allow pinch-hitter Andres Torres to reach second base for a leadoff double. Torres advanced to third on a fielder's choice. But Hamels got both Daniel Murphy and David Wright to ground out to get out of the jam.
"That was everything I had," Hamels said of his six-pitch at-bat with Wright. "I just knew not to lay anything down the pipe. There's a reason why he's hitting .380, and obviously a couple days ago he was .400. I knew not to make a mistake."
"I think Cole did a good job," Wright said. "He made a couple mistakes, and we hit those out of the ballpark, but when he needed to get an out, he [focused] and did a terrific job."
The Phillies will need the rotation to step up even more while Halladay is out, whether it is one start or much longer. Hamels did Monday.
"It might get hard, but we're definitely not going to fold the tent," Manuel said. "We're not going to back off. When you miss somebody like Halladay, your team really misses them. But there's nothing you can do about it until you get them healthy and they come back. So what are you going to do? You've got to play and keep playing. If you play the game right and you want it bad enough, good things can happen to you."