ATLANTA (AP) — 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 Monday and giving a last-place team a rare reason to celebrate.
It was all the more unusual in that Hamels left the game with his bid intact after six innings. He was 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," Hamels 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."
Hamels (8-6) struck out seven, matched a season high with five walks and hit a batter.
Relievers Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon each pitched a perfect inning to close out the 11th combined no-hitter in big league history. 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."
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."
Clayton Kershaw and Josh Beckett of the Dodgers and Tim Lincecum of the Giants threw no-hitters earlier this year.
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.