SEVERAL HOURS before last night's game, a Phillies attendant walked into the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park and deposited an autographed Braves jersey in the locker next to Cole Hamels'. The young lefthander had sought to collect signed jerseys from each of the Big Three Atlanta starters who dominated the National League during his formative years, and last night he completed the collection.

Hours later, his prized left arm wrapped in ice, he basked in the glow of a performance that just might inspire some anonymous future big-leaguer to one day seek him out to pay it forward.

With Tom Glavine and John Smoltz watching from the visitors' dugout - and Greg Maddux finishing out his career in San Diego - Hamels dominated the Braves, using a ramped-up fastball and lethal changeup to befuddle Atlanta hitters and lift the Phillies to a 5-0, complete-game victory.

"He's special," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He's driven, he's got tremendous work ethic. He wants to go deep in the game and finish it every night out."

With an appreciative crowd standing and roaring on a picturesque spring night, Hamels struck out Brian McCann on his trademark changeup to end a masterful performance.

Hamels threw 120 pitches, 86 of them for strikes. He allowed only four hits, retiring 15 consecutive batters at one point. He walked two batters, both of them in the eighth, and threw three balls in only one other at-bat. He threw 22 first-pitch strikes, several of which resulted in first-pitch outs against a lineup that seemed to realize there was no sense in working the count.

"To hit against him, you have to try to get on him as early as possible," Dubee said, "because you know he's going to get that changeup somewhere."

With all the injuries and inconsistency and various hitting and pitching slumps the Phillies have endured throughout the first quarter of this season, their faith in two quantities never has been tested. Hamels and home runs.

They haven't always been on the same page this season - the Phillies had only one hit in Hamels' previous longest appearance of the season, while he allowed five runs and took the loss the last time the Phillies hit three home runs in one of his starts - but when they are, they are hard to beat.

Pedro Feliz' solo home run in the second inning gave the pitcher all the run support he would need, but Ryan Howard added his third home run in five games and Shane Victorino went deep for the first time this season. Leading, 5-0, from the fourth inning on, Hamels cruised. Entering the eighth, he had thrown only 84 pitches, making his third career complete game a very real possibility. He threw 21 pitches in the eighth, but manager Charlie Manuel never considered pinch-hitting for him in the bottom of the frame.

"He was in there," Manuel said. "When he got to 100 pitches, 120 pitches, I don't know how much longer I could have let him go, because we're only 42 games in. But, nah, he was in there."

Hamels was aided by a great doubleplay in the ninth that started with Jimmy Rollins fielding a sharp ground ball and throwing to second while seated on his rear end. The play might have saved Hamels' shot at the shutout, since he finished with the second-highest pitch count of his career.

Most impressive, Dubee said, was the fact that Hamels finished with only six strikeouts. "What didn't impress me?" Dubee said.

Of course, Hamels has a while to go before he is mentioned in the same breath as some of the current and former Braves greats. Glavine, whom he watched 2 nights ago, has 25 career shutouts. Last night was Hamels' first.

Afterward, he acknowledged that he still hadn't completed his second full major league season. But, Hamels said, "I really hope that my career goes in that path." *

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