SAN DIEGO - The beleaguered relievers entered the clubhouse one by one and were greeted by Cole Hamels. They were minor-leaguers weeks ago; now they formed the National League's worst bullpen, a unit that tasted vindication in Wednesday's 7-5 Phillies win. Hamels high-fived the pitchers every inning as the game extended beyond four hours.
"They absolutely shut it down," Hamels said.
Few were awake in Philadelphia to see a most resolute victory over the Padres. Ben Revere tapped the eighth pitch he saw in the 13th inning to deep second base. Two runs, including Domonic Brown from first base, scored on that grounder.
The bullpen tossed seven scoreless innings. It amounted to a modest winning streak for these ailing Phillies.
"That's why you keep playing," manager Charlie Manuel said. "You'd be surprised at what you can do when you really want to play. That's what it's all about."
For five innings, three relievers with ERAs greater than 5.70 at triple A, preserved a tie. The Phillies discovered the new market inefficiency; pluck a struggling minor-league arm and toss him into the frenzy of a tight game.
J.C. Ramirez (6.53 triple-A ERA) retired all six batters he faced. Aumont (6.75 triple-A ERA) danced through two more innings. Both were acquired in the second Cliff Lee trade. Both have failed to realize potential.
Jake Diekman (5.70 triple-A ERA) pitched a scoreless 11th inning. Little-used Joe Savery duplicated it in the 12th inning. All four of those pitchers have spent time at Lehigh Valley in 2013. They delivered in a huge way.
"That was fun," Aumont said.
The 13th unfolded in bizarre fashion. Chase Utley started it by taking one off the shoulder. Brown drew a two-out walk. Padres second baseman Logan Forsythe bobbled Revere's ball deep in the hole. Utley sprinted for home. Forsythe misfired. Brown trotted in with the second run.
"Hell of an at-bat by Ben," Manuel said.
"That's what Ben does," Delmon Young said. "He's not going to give up. He's had to fight for everything his whole life. He's not going to give up an at-bat, especially when you have a chance to win the game right there. Put the ball in play and good things can happen."
It was Young who pushed the game to extra innings and prevented Hamels from becoming the first Phillies pitcher in the franchise's 131-year history from losing 12 games before June ended. Young belted a two-run homer to left in the eighth that tied it. He had one extra-base hit in his last 13 games. It was his first homer in 43 at-bats.
Re-signing Hamels is the most significant decision general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has made in the last 12 months. The Phillies were betting on a homegrown cornerstone. Hamels agreed to stay because of the organization's commitment to winning. The first three months were torture.
Hamels has blown leads, albeit small ones, in each of his last two starts. The Phillies staked him with two runs Wednesday. It disappeared in the third because Young kicked a routine single to center that plated an unearned run.
Chris Denorfia pelted a 2-0 fastball into the left-field seats for a two-run blast in the fifth. Chase Headley and Kyle Blanks mashed consecutive doubles in the sixth. Hamels lowered his head with another thwack of the bat. He descended the mound and paced around the infield. He was emotionless.
This ballpark was heaven for Hamels before Wednesday. He had a 1.27 ERA in six career starts at Petco, a short drive from his childhood home. He had a 2.15 lifetime ERA against the Padres. This outing ended after six innings.
His season ERA is 4.58. The man who signed the richest contract in Philadelphia sports history is trapped in a nightmare. The bad luck clouded over Hamels' head has ceded to mediocre pitching with few excuses. His velocity is better than a season ago. His location is not.
"Another poor performance," Hamels said. "It's not the situation you want to be in."
Support did not arrive until later. The Phillies offense was shuttered by Robbie Erlin, a soft-tossing lefthander whom they had never seen. In other words, he was Cy Young to the Phillies.
Erlin allowed two runs in the first two innings but rallied to retired 15 of 16 hitters. His bullpen sullied what was the finest outing of his young career. And, for once, the Phillies bullpen outshined their counterparts.