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 accounted for only 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.

"It came at the right time," manager Charlie Manuel said.

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 the 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.

"If I win 2-0, 1-0 games from here on out," Hamels said, "I guess I'm doing something right."

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.

Hamels, expecting an early swing, 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 the hitter hacking at the heavy air.

And for the third out, he twice shook off Carlos Ruiz, who insisted that Hamels throw the change-up again. Hamels wanted a curveball. He deferred to the catcher. 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.

"They were all working," Hamels said. 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 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. He was the first Phillie to homer in a span of 262 batters and 65 innings.

In their previous six games, the Phillies had seven extra-base hits. Nine innings Wednesday produced four such hits. A Shane Victorino one-out triple in the seventh immediately followed by a Domonic Brown ground ball provided insurance.

Two runs on five hits was an improvement, and with Hamels dealing, the timing was perfect.

"He pitched a heck of a game," Manuel said. "Really good."

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
at mgelb@phillynews.com or @magelb on Twitter.