ATLANTA — On Labor Day, Cole Hamels and the Phillies' bullpen spread the workload on a no-hitter.
Hamels and three relievers combined on the season's fourth no-hitter, blanking the Braves 7-0 Monday and giving a last-place team a rare reason to celebrate.
It was all the more unusual in that Hamels left the game with his bid intact after six innings. He was fine with the decision, too, having already thrown 108 pitches on a hot afternoon at Turner Field.
"Just understanding the situation, every time I went out there I was battling control issues," Hamels said. "I wasn't getting ahead of guys. Walking the leadoff hitter will put you in a lot of trouble, and it does. It builds up your pitch count."
Hamels struck out seven, matched a season high with five walks and hit a batter.
Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon each pitched a perfect inning to close out the 11th combined no-hitter in big-league history. Hamels watched from the bench smiling as they finished what he started.
"I think having a combined no-hitter is very difficult because guys have to come right in and get the guys out, no matter what the situation is," Hamels said. "It's a little more dramatic to be able to see that you're trying to play the cards as best you can against the lineup."
Manager Ryne Sandberg knew Hamels was tired and ready to come out. Their discussion was a quick one.
"It didn't take long," Sandberg said. "He was pretty well spent there. The early innings had something to do with it. The stressful innings, stranding the runners at second and third a couple of times, but he wasn't going to go nine. And he ran the bases the inning before."
Papelbon was in the middle of the hugs and handshakes on the mound when it was over.
"I think it's a cool experience," he said. "It's definitely been a rough go at it this year for our ball club. (It's) something to kind of hang our hat on for the year. Cole has been our bona fide ace for the entire season, and it's good to preserve those wins for our starters. (Monday) it was preserving a no-hitter."
Clayton Kershaw and Josh Beckett of the Dodgers and Tim Lincecum of the Giants also have pitched no-hitters this year.