That moment came in the bottom of the seventh inning. With two outs and a runner on first, Jason Heyward lined a sinker down and away into left field for the Braves' first hit of the night. The 41,131 fans at Turner Field stood and cheered, thankful they would not witness their Braves become the sixth team to be no-hit in 2012. They wouldn't have much to cheer for the rest of the game, however, as Hammel didn't allow another base runner and the Orioles beat the Braves 5-0.
Hammel's one-hitter was the first for the Orioles since Sept. 28, 2006, when Daniel Cabrera threw one at Yankee Stadium. Hammel allowed two walks, both to Dan Uggla, to go with Heyward's hit. Otherwise, the Braves had no answer for his four-pitch mix.
"His sinker was really darting and he was putting his offspeed pitches over when he needed to," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "I thought he had a great game plan."
Hammel struck out eight and no one other than Heyward hit more than a routine fly ball or groundout. He lowered his ERA to 2.87, the sixth-best in the American League.
"It was the same thing he's done all year," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "He's been tremendous all year."
Hammel's journey to becoming the Orioles' most dependable starting pitcher has been a long one. He was removed from the Rockies rotation last year after a disappointing first four months of the season. In his last start before being demoted, Hammel gave up six runs on six hits in three innings. It raised his ERA to 5.24.
Saturday, after the best start of his career, Hammel said the move to the bullpen was what allowed him to focus on the mound and turn his career around.
"It used to be, for me, too many things were going on," Hammel said. "I was worried about the what ifs and what might happen instead of going hitter to hitter and that's what I was able to do tonight. It's not rocket science."
After Heyward got the game's first hit in the seventh, Hammel was able to retire Eric Hinske to end the inning and eliminate the Braves only chance with a runner in scoring position. It was the kind of mental discipline Hammel said he learned in the Rockies bullpen.
Catcher Matt Wieters said even the pitch Heyward hit wasn't a mistake. In fact, Wieters said it might have been too good.
"[Heyward's] a good low ball hitter," Wieters said. "It was a pretty good pitch down and away. Maybe you make it a little more middle, a little more up; maybe you get him to pop it up off the top. But you never know. It was a good pitch and Heyward put a good swing on it."
With Hammel dominating, the Orioles didn't need much offense. Which was good, because Braves starter Brandon Beachy was even better than Hammel at the game's outset. Beachy retired the first 11 hitters he faced, until he walked Chris Davis with two outs in the fourth. Beachy then left the game with an injury the Braves announced as a recurrence of right elbow soreness.
Right-hander Anthony Varvaro replaced Beachy and walked the bases loaded with two outs. Mark Reynolds followed with a two-run single to left field, the first hit of the night for the Orioles.
The Orioles added one run in the fifth and two more in the seventh, but Hammel already had all the support he would need.
Showalter said there was never much of a question about letting Hammel finish the game despite a sore right knee that forced the Orioles to push his start back a day.
"He had an extra day's rest and he gets an extra day's rest next time too," Showalter said. "It worked out letting him go."
After the game, Hammel wasn't much concerned about his knee. He had flirted with a no-hitter and settled for a one-hitter. Almost before he knew it, he was shaking hands with Wieters to celebrate his first career shutout.
"Before I looked up we were in the seventh inning," Hammel said. "Even after the hit, [they were] quick innings."