As he began the first home run trot for a Phillies hitter in eight days, Ryan Howard raised his right arm to the sky. He had stood momentarily to admire the Hiroki Kuroda fastball he mashed. In right field, Andre Ethier took a few steps back, then thought better and just watched it fly.
The ball did not land deep in the stands at Citizens Bank Park and it only accounted for one run Wednesday night. But Howard and the sold-out crowd reacted otherwise. This was a run on a night when Cole Hamels was pitching. This was enough.
No, the offensive malaise is far from cured, but a 2-0 win over the Dodgers restored faith in what has elevated the Phillies to first place and a 37-25 record - timely hitting and otherworldly pitching.
Hamels' eight shutout innings were nothing short of brilliant as he recorded win No. 8, tying him for the major-league lead. He struck out nine and walked none. He has a 2.58 ERA this season.
Howard's sixth-inning blast was the requisite offense. So many times in 2010, Hamels was victim of poor run support, but the 27-year-old lefthander claimed it only made him a stronger pitcher in tight situations. That theory was tested twice in the later innings and Hamels displayed remarkable poise.
In the seventh, the first two Dodgers reached base on a double and single to put runners on the corners and a lead in delicate balance. But Hamels turned to his trusted weapon to navigate through trouble.
He threw Juan Uribe a first-pitch change-up that was popped up to second for a harmless first out. He struck out Marcus Thames on a change-up that left him hacking at the heavy air.
And for the third out, Hamels shook off Carlos Ruiz twice until the catcher flashed the sign for change-up. Rod Barajas barely mustered contact and popped out to short. Hamels walked to the dugout with a standing ovation saluting his great escape.
The tying runs reached base again in the eighth on two singles. With his pitch count escalating, Hamels took a long pace behind the mound after Ethier fouled off the sixth pitch he threw. Again, sensing a crucial moment, the fans stood.
The seventh pitch was a chopper to Howard, who fielded it too far away from the first base bag to record the out without help. But Hamels was in full sprint to the bag, where he took Howard's toss and stepped on the base for one final act.
When Hamels threw his first pitch, the temperature was 92 degrees. He threw 112 more after that and Los Angeles was fooled on a majority. The change-up was the nastiest; Hamels threw it 28 times, 21 for strikes, with 10 of them swings and misses.
Until Howard's home run, it could have been another wasted effort. But Kuroda, who had made Howard look absolutely silly by striking him out on two pitches in the dirt his first two times up, launched a mistake. It was a 91-m.p.h. fastball, belt-high and inside - also known as the happy zone for Howard.
In their previous six games, the Phillies had seven extra-base hits. Nine innings Wednesday produced four such hits. And the lineup card Charlie Manuel submitted for this game included neither Chase Utley nor Jimmy Rollins, instead leaving the middle infield to The Killer Zs (Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez). That left a gaping hole at the bottom of the order.
It mattered little because of Howard's shot and Shane Victorino's one-out triple in the seventh that turned into a run on a Domonic Brown ground ball.
Two runs on five hits was an improvement, and with Hamels dealing, the timing was perfect.