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Hamels blanks Braves for his 12th victory

PHILADELPHIA -- These are the games the Phillies hope are a glimpse into the not-so-distant future.

Games when Cole Hamels looks like a $144 million pitcher, Domonic Brown looks like the answer in left field and Ryan Howard shows he can still be The Big Piece. They looked like each of those things in Tuesday's 3-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

"The organization has kept the core guys they want," Hamels said following the fifth regular-season shutout and sixth overall in his career. "To show signs of what we have and what we have to come, I think that's a big help.

"Ultimately, that's what the organization is going to try to build around and what the fans want to see. If we just go out there and be ourselves and play the game like we know how, we can win a lot of baseball games. Obviously, it hasn't shown this year, but you can show signs right now and you can play the game the right way right now and you can try to bring it on before next season."

Hamels pitched a masterpiece to pick up his first win since signing his six-year contract extension on July 25. He was 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA in his previous two starts and 1-2 with a 4.15 ERA in his previous five, but he threw his first shutout since Game 3 of the 2010 National League Division Series.

He allowed five hits and struck out six in a stellar effort.

"I thought he was going to face 27 there for a little bit," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "It was one of those nights. The guy makes a lot of money for a reason. He's pretty good."

If Hamels keeps pitching anywhere close to this, if Roy Halladay continues to improve his mechanics following some bad habits he picked up because of a right lat injury and if Cliff Lee rediscovers his mojo, the Phillies could be spoilers down the stretch and set up nicely for 2013.

No, the Phillies did not torch Braves left-hander Mike Minor, but they took advantage of him early. And one of the guys who the Phillies desperately need to show them something in the final two months of the season helped make it happen.

Brown doubled to center field in the first inning against Minor to score Jimmy Rollins to hand the Phillies a 1-0 lead. Brown could have been thrown out by several feet trying to stretch a single into a double, but Braves second baseman Martin Prado dropped the ball as he swiped his glove to tag Brown.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel called it an aggressive play on Brown's part, but there's no question he got a little lucky. He then didn't tag up and advance to third on Chase Utley's fly ball to center field. But Howard ensured Brown's miscue would not matter when he crushed a two-run home run to left-center field to give the Phillies a 3-0 lead.

It was Howard's first home run and extra-base hit since July 23.

Brown worked a walk in the third inning. It was his third walk in eight plate appearances against left-handed pitchers this season. In comparison, the right-handed-hitting John Mayberry Jr. entered the night with no walks in 117 plate appearances against left-handers.

In the fifth, Brown threw a rocket from the left-field corner to second base to get Brian McCann, who was trying to stretch a single into a double.

Good hose, Charlie?

"He's got a good arm," Manuel confirmed.

"I got that ball off the wall, so I was just trying to get it in as quick as possible and that's it," Brown said.

Brown should have more opportunities to make more throws and come up with more big hits. The Phillies hope he continues to take strides offensively and defensively while reducing the occasional mental mistake. Through eight games, he is hitting .284 with two doubles, two RBIs, a .393 on-base percentage and a .375 slugging percentage.

"I feel all right," Brown said. "I feel like I'm doing what I need to be doing. I could do more. It's just playing hard and playing good defense."

Nights like Tuesday might make a fan wonder why the Phillies aren't closer to the top of the standings.

Maybe next year, but at least there are signs it can happen.

"That's why we're giving guys a chance to play right now," Manuel said. "We're trying to find out exactly where we're at."

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