BOSTON - The Red Sox probably had a pretty good idea they were going to struggle against Cole Hamels in the first inning, when the Phillies lefthander struck out Victor Martinez with a fastball on the outside corner that clocked in at 96 mph on both the scoreboard radar gun at Fenway Park and on Major League Baseball's pitch-tracking software on its website

Even this season, when an improved offseason conditioning program has left the 26-year-old with the best arm strength of his career, Hamels' fastball usually averages between 90 and 92 mph, hitting 93 consistently on a good day while occasionally reaching 94 or 95.

Yesterday, Hamels' fastest pitch - a fastball that coaxed a foul pop fly from Dustin Pedroia in the first - checked in at 97.

"The way that I felt, I felt really good, and I felt smooth," said Hamels, who is 6-5 with a 3.74 ERA after yesterday's 5-3 win. "I was letting the ball go out front. It just came out of my hand whatever the speed said. I've been feeling really good the past couple of starts, and I think it's just a matter of being as free and easy as I possibly can. Just staying behind the ball and letting it go."

Whether or not the velocity readings are accurate - the fact the occasional fastball that opposing knuckleballer Tim Wakefield threw measured at his normal speed suggests they were - Hamels (6-5, 3.74 ERA) clearly turned in one of his strongest performances of the season.

Of the 113 pitches he threw, 80 were for strikes. After allowing a solo home run to Adrian Beltre on a hanging cutter in the second inning, he struck out the next four batters. After losing out on a 15-pitch at-bat in the sixth by walking Victor Martinez, he retired the next three batters he faced, each of them representing the potential tying run.

He finished with one run allowed and eight strikeouts in seven innings for his first win since May 21 when the Phillies beat the Red Sox, 5-2, at Citizens Bank Park. In that game, Hamels also had eight strikeouts over seven innings and gave up just one earned run.

He has held opponents under three runs in each of his last eight starts, a stretch in which he has a 2.77 ERA. Not including a start against Atlanta on June 1 in which he allowed three runs in the first inning before a rain delay cost him the rest of his outing, Hamels has a 2.67 ERA, 52 strikeouts and just 20 walks in his last 54 innings.

In his first 12 starts of last season, Hamels went 4-2 with a 4.48 and 62 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings. In 2008, when he threw a career-high 227 2/3 innings with a 3.09 ERA in the regular season before winning National League Championship Series and World Series MVP honors, he went 5-4 with a 3.73 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 82 innings in his first 12 starts.

"I feel a lot stronger this year," Hamels said. "I think it's the workouts I've been doing. I've been able to grind through. There's always those days where it's hard to get up and do something, and I feel like I've been able to push through. I think that just takes a lot of growing up and maturing and you have to do this, because things will pay off in the end."

Lidge saves

Brad Lidge was down in the count 3-1 with a runner on first. Walk Darnell McDonald, who attended Cherry Creek High School in Denver 2 years behind him, and the Red Sox would have the tying run at the plate and men on first and second. That he decided to throw a slider on each of his next two pitches, one of them a called strike and one of them swung at for a strikeout, should tell you all you need to know about his confidence level in his trademark pitch.

"It's good he's got confidence in it, and it's good that he feels like he can throw it for strikes," manager Charlie Manuel said.

The Phillies did not enter the ninth in a save situation, and with two lefties due up in the frame, Manuel called on lefty J.C. Romero. But Romero allowed a double to David Ortiz, who later scored on a passed ball, and a walk to J.D. Drew, prompting the call to Lidge.

After striking out McDonald, Lidge allowed an RBI single to Red Sox rookie Daniel Nava, but got Marco Scutaro to pop out on a fastball to close out his fourth save of the season.

Lidge, who spent the first month of the season on the disabled list and returned there for a 3-week stint in May, has gone eight consecutive outings without being charged with a run.

Phillers

Second baseman Chase Utley went 0-for-3 and is hitting .256. He has not hit a home run since May 20, a drought of 87 plate appearances, 75 at-bats . . . Yesterday marked the 585th consecutive sellout at Fenway Park . . . Jayson Werth, who hit .359 in his first 29 games but entered yesterday hitting just .198 in his previous 29, collected an RBI single and stole two bases to finish the three-game series 4-for-10.