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It's a Cole new world

GET THIS MAN a chiropractor. Supply him with live-in masseuse. Buy him all the herbal supplements random drug testing will allow and let him meditate with mantras into the morning's wee hours as he levitates over hemp rugs, cross-legged and distant.

GET THIS MAN a chiropractor.

Supply him with live-in masseuse.

Buy him all the herbal supplements random drug testing will allow and let him meditate with mantras into the morning's wee hours as he levitates over hemp rugs, cross-legged and distant.

Cole Hamels, devotee of osteopathic remedies and New Age thinking, earned it all in last night's 6-0 win.

Hamels gave the Phillies eight shutout innings. He struck out 13 Nationals on 116 pitches (82 strikes), his second-highest strikeout total in perhaps the best start of his brief career. He allowed six hits and one walk.

So, how about that full-time neck adjuster?

"He keeps pitching like that," manager Charlie Manuel said, "we'll get him two."

In front of a sellout crowd of 45,084, Hamels complemented his typically nasty changeup with an unfairly tight curveball on a night when his fastball rode high and a little wild.

Behind Hamels, the Phillies overtook the flagging Mets in the National League East, a game ahead with two to play. The Phils have won 12 of 15.

After trailing the Mets by seven games on Sept. 12, the Phillies now have a magic number - two games.

Embattled manager Charlie Manuel and his staff have exactly two regular-season games left on their contracts, even after matching the 88 wins of 2005, the most wins since the 1993 playoff club.

"Of course we smell it," Manuel said.

This was a validation.

Moreover, it was a coronation.

In his 51st major league start, in his first full major league season, Hamels, 23, last night became the franchise's first official Big Game Pitcher since Curt Schilling talked his way out of town in 2000.

Between shiatsu sessions and after his 1.6 million daily situps, Hamels will tell you he wants to win the Cy Young Award every year en route to the Hall of Fame.

Now 15-5 with a 3.39 earned run average in an All-Star season, last night was a step toward future consideration for both.

"He's one of the best young pitchers I've seen in 10 years," said veteran reliever Flash Gordon, a former Cub, Red Sox and Yankee – so he knows tough towns. "Anytime you see a guy so young with the poise to do this in a town that's so demanding: That is special."

As if the legend needed any embellishment, last night was his third start since coming off the disabled list with a mild left elbow strain. While he recovered, he said the injury might have been prevented if the Phillies had a traveling chiropractor: He swears by his personal back-cracker in Philadelphia.

That clubhouse oration earned him a reprimand from the team.

Last night's performance might have earned him supplemental health benefits.

"That would be nice," Hamels said.

As for pitch counts, well, when Hamels went up to hit in the seventh with the bases loaded, sitting on 102 pitches, and Manuel had said Hamels would not throw 115 pitches.

Manuel asked Hamels how he felt after seven innings. Hamels, surprised and delighted – he has never been asked that in his injury-riddle career – said, "Fine."

Manuel saw the chance to avoid overused relievers, and he took it.

"We had a chance to rest our bullpen," said Manuel, who used long man Clay Condrey in the ninth.

In January, Jimmy Rollins proclaimed the Phillies the Team to Beat in the NL East, thanks to a starting rotation anchored, in part, by Hamels. Rollins took extreme grief for the prediction. Last night, with his team finally in sole possession of first place, he did not gloat.

"Feels like spring training," he said when asked about the statement.

The Phillies are where they are largely because they clobbered the Mets this season, 12-6, with eight straight wins, including a sweep during the Mets' current swoon.

They also have done what the Mets could not: beat the lousy Nationals.

The Phillies moved to 11-5 against them this season, 4-1 during their surge. Meanwhile, the Mets are 9-9 against the Nats . . . but 1-5 during the collapse.

The Nationals seemed taxed last night, committing two errors, dropping a ball here, allowing a passed ball there. Perhaps they expended too much of their late-season energy helping to make the Mets the biggest chokers in baseball history.

Early, Rollins said the Phils were a bit tight against Tim Redding, too. Efficient execution, a little bit of luck and two clutch hits meant three runs in the fifth.

Just after Greg Dobbs teased one foul by the rightfield pole, he smoothly delivered a single to leftfield.

Carlos Ruiz then got hit in the right pinkie – kind of lucky, since Redding (3-6) overmatched him in the second inning. Hamels nicely executed a bunt that moved them both over.

Rollins clutched up and singled up the middle for a 2-0 lead.

"I wasn't going to let Cole's bunt go to waste," Rollins said.

He successfully stole second on a pitchout when shortstop D'Angelo Jiminez failed to catch Jesus Flores' perfect throw. It was not ruled an error.

Chase Utley then doubled to rightfield and Rollins scored, a hit that was both fortunate and clutch. Fortunate, because Flores had dropped a foul pop earlier in the at-bat; clutch, because Utley, now with 102 RBI, has proved to be the team's most clutch player.

With one out in the seventh, Utley was hit by a pitch from lefty specialist Arnie Munoz, whom Ryan Howard then tagged for homer No. 45 to make it 6-0.

Hamels cruised through the final six innings of his signature outing, but the second, especially, might have changed everything.

Three base hits had loaded the bases with one out. It brought Redding to the plate. He swung, 0-1, and grounded into a doubleplay.

Hamels didn't have a strikeout at that point.

Quickly, he caught up.

He seemed to have plenty left, too. Pitch No. 116 was a 94-mph fastball that blew away Ryan Zimmerman for the third time.

And now?

"What else can he do?" Gordon asked. "I guess throw a no-hitter."

The Phillies would love that.

Hamels' next scheduled start would be Wednesday, in what would be the franchise's the first playoff game in 14 years. Rest assured, he'll see his chiropractor before that outing.

The Phillies might even pay. *