PHILADELPHIA -- The meeting between Cole Hamels and Bryce Harper had been hyped, much like this week's series between the Phillies and Nationals had been hyped.
But hype often fails to match reality, and reality hit the Phillies hard in the first two games of this series at Citizens Bank Park. They lost Monday and Tuesday, dropping them two games under .500 and making them look less and less like contenders for a sixth consecutive National League East championship.
So the Phillies turned to Hamels on Wednesday to salvage the series, much like he salvaged the series against the Nationals under similar circumstances earlier this month in Washington.
He came up big again in a 4-1 victory, allowing the natives to breathe a little easier for another 24 hours.
"You never want to get swept at home, ever," Hunter Pence said. "The thing is you've got to just play baseball. Not press. Don't get too high, too low. We had a little win streak, then we lost a few in a row. In Philly, the meter is like, 'Panic! Happy! Panic! Happy!' Stay right here and keep going. There's going to be hot times and there's going to be cold times."
The victory had Phillies manager Charlie Manuel feeling a lot better about his team, despite the fact the Nationals have won nine of their last 11 games against them, dating to last season.
"I think for them to have their whole team together and for us to have our whole team together ... I think it's close," he said. "I think we've got them, though."
And why does he say that?
"Because I just think we've got them," he said. "There are reasons why, and I don't want to tell you."
And the 2-4 mark against them this season hasn't deterred that thinking?
"That doesn't bother me at all," he said.
The Phillies will have to play many more games like Wednesday to prove Manuel correct, because more than a quarter of the way through the season, the Phillies are 22-23 and in last place in the division. But Wednesday they relied on a stellar effort from Hamels and some timely hitting that had been sorely lacking during the team's four-game losing streak.
Hamels allowed four hits, three walks and struck out eight in eight innings to improve to 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA.
"I feel the same as I've felt the last couple years," Hamels said. "Fortunately, things are just falling my way. I'm just trying to make sure it goes as long as it possibly can."
Hamels caused plenty of controversy earlier this month when he drilled Harper with a first-pitch fastball in the first inning. No big deal -- these things happen in baseball -- except Hamels unexpectedly admitted throwing at Harper on purpose. He received a five-game suspension for his admission, while Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo got fined for calling Hamels "classless," "gutless" and "fake-tough."
But when Hamels and Harper met in the first inning Wednesday, nothing happened.
Hamels threw a first-pitch cutter outside the strike zone for a ball. Harper flied out to left field in the at-bat. The 19-year-old rookie walked in the fourth, showing incredible speed and aggressiveness advancing a base each time on fly balls to center field. He singled in the sixth on a play that ended with Pence throwing out Danny Espinosa at the plate. He grounded out with a runner on third and two outs in the eighth inning.
Hamels owned the night.
"He was real good," Harper said. "Every pitch was working for him. Fastball, curveball, changeup, cutter, he had it. He threw the ball well tonight, painted it up, all the effort he gave, he did a great job."
Hamels did not partake in any questions about Harper.
"It wasn't even in the back of my mind," he said.
Hamels issued three leadoff walks in the first four innings, but he did not allow a hit until Espinosa's one-out double in the sixth inning.
The Phillies took a 1-0 lead in the second when Mike Fontenot singled to right to score Carlos Ruiz. They took a 2-0 lead when Shane Victorino -- who added a solo homer later -- doubled to right-center field to score Pence. And they tacked on a run in the seventh when they perfectly executed a suicide squeeze with Fontenot scoring on Juan Pierre's bunt back to the pitcher.
"Maury Wills said a manager should always have total confidence to give you the squeeze," said Pierre, who worked with Wills when he played with the Dodgers. "I got a good pitch. It usually isn't that good, but it was right down the middle, which made it a little easier."
"It's definitely fun stuff," Fontenot said.
Winning is fun. The Phillies just haven't done enough of it.
"We needed to win a game," Manuel said. "We're going to win some more. We ain't going nowhere."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.