ATLANTA -- The Braves have experienced some disappointing Septembers over the past few years. But none of them have included the forgettable start that was experienced on Monday afternoon, when Cole Hamels and three relievers combined to throw a no-hitter in the Phillies' 7-0 win.
"It just feels like a loss," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. "No matter if we get 20 hits or zero hits, we lost one. Tomorrow, we'll come out and try to win one."
If the Braves are just trying to make steady progress, they might simply aim to tally multiple runs. This combined no-hit shutout extended a skid during which the Braves have totaled just one run over their past three games. That lone run came courtesy of Evan Gattis' solo shot in Sunday's win over the Marlins.
Fortunately, this latest offensive malaise has not wrecked Atlanta's postseason hopes. The Braves still sit 1 1/2 games back of the Brewers in the fluid battle to gain the National League's second Wild Card entry.
"The game of baseball is kind of funny," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You feel like you're in a good stride and then you go through a stretch of scoring one run in 27 innings. We were lucky enough to win one of those games."
Once Hamels exited after totaling 108 pitches over six hitless innings, Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon combined to preserve the first combined no-hitter in Phillies history, and the first completed against the Braves. The 2012 Mariners had recorded the most recent of the 10 previous combined no-hitters in Major League history.
Gonzalez said he wasn't surprised the Phillies opted to bring their closer into the game to preserve history, despite the score being lopsided. Papelbon ended the game by getting Philadelphia-area native Phil Gosselin to line out to first base.
"It sums up the fight all year, even though it hasn't gone the way we wanted," Hamels said. "Seeing the talent next to me is something special. I know we won't be able to have this sort of opportunity ever again."
As Hamels' pitch count hit 60 through the first three innings and rose to 92 through five, there was reason to wonder when he would be lifted. That answer came in the seventh, when Philadelphia manager Ryne Sandberg opted to lift his veteran lefty after the Braves had intentionally walked Cody Asche to put two on with two outs.
Grady Sizemore replaced Hamels as a pinch-hitter and promptly drew a walk to load the bases for light-hitting Ben Revere. Julio Teheran got ahead of Revere with a 1-2 count and then hung a slider that the speedy center fielder sent over Jason Heyward's head for a three-run triple that highlighted his career-best five-RBI performance.
"I think the [slider] was the perfect pitch to him, but it wasn't the [right] location," Teheran said. "I tried to make my pitches, but I wasn't able to do it."
It looked like the Braves might have their way with Hamels when Heyward and Emilio Bonifacio drew consecutive walks to begin the bottom of the first inning. But Hamels responded with consecutive strikeouts of Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton before laboring through hot, humid conditions.
"I feel like we should have executed in that situation, but we didn't," Upton said. "It kind of steamrolled from there."
Hamels found himself in trouble yet again in the third inning, when he issued a leadoff walk to Heyward, who notched his third stolen base of the afternoon before Freeman drew a one-out walk. After Upton's weak groundout put runners at second and third base, Marlon Byrd made the defensive play of the day. His diving grab of Chris Johnson's liner in right field prevented two runs from scoring and ultimately enabled the Phillies to celebrate the no-hitter.
Teheran had allowed just three hits through the first six innings. After Asche doubled to begin the third, Hamels produced a sacrifice bunt that enabled Revere to follow with his first sacrifice fly of the season. Hamels helped himself again in the sixth inning when he singled and then scored on Jimmy Rollins' triple.
"I was trying to do the same thing I had been doing all year," Teheran said. "I made a couple mistakes that cost me a couple of runs. But I think everything was going their way today. So there is nothing we can do about it."