PITTSBURGH -- The truth will be told in a couple weeks, when Cole Hamels has a greater body of work to examine.

But if he looked like a different pitcher Wednesday at PNC Park than the one that had struggled most of the season, he said he felt like a different pitcher. Hamels, who entered the night with the fifth-highest ERA in the National League, threw eight scoreless innings in a 4-1 victory in 10 innings over the Pirates. He had been in line for the win, too, until Ryan Madson blew the save in the ninth before Ryan Howard's three-run homer won the game in the 10th.

The hope is that something with Hamels finally has clicked. Because if Hamels finally starts pitching like the person who became an All-Star in 2007 and World Series MVP in 2008, the Phillies will have a formidable rotation in September and October with Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, Pedro Martinez and Hamels.

"The last two innings of the Mets game, it felt like it finally clicked," Hamels said, referring to his start Friday against the Mets at Citi Field. "Unfortunately, I would have rather it happened in the first inning of that game. But that's where I think it clicked. And then my bullpen [in between starts] felt really smooth. It was probably the best bullpen I've thrown all year.

"I'm not really trying to force it. The stuff that I've had, it's gotten me to the big leagues. It's gotten me to have success. Why do I have to try to be better or expect more out of myself when I was able to get the job done pretty well with the stuff that I normally have?"

Hamels found himself in a few jams. He had runners on first and second with no outs in the second. He loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth, but struck out Paul Maholm to end the inning.

"He went from throwing 91 to 95 [mph]," Maholm said. "There's a reason that he's one of the best lefties in the game."

Hamels also had runners on first and second with one out in the seventh, but worked out of it.

"I have the stuff to be here," Hamels said. "I have the stuff to succeed. I have the stuff to succeed in the postseason. Why was I getting carried away trying to be somebody else I'm not? Even with the stuff I have, it's pretty good. I don't think Mark Buehrle went out and tried to be even better when he threw a perfect game. He just threw a game and it became a perfect game."


"The Big Piece was right on time. He was running from behind, but caught up at the end. The Big Piece is all right, especially when he hits three-run bombs."
-- Charlie Manuel, on Howard

Hamels threw 123 pitches, the most he has thrown since July 3, 2008, when he threw 125 in 8 2/3 innings in a victory over the Braves at Turner Field. His fastball had good velocity throughout the game, which he said partially is because he hasn't pitched enough this season.

But just when it looked like Hamels would pick up the win, Madson threw a 2-2 changeup to Brandon Moss, who hit a solo homer in the ninth to tie the game. Madson was closing because Brad Lidge had pitched four consecutive games.

"Madson has a great changeup," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He also was throwing 96, 97 [mph]. If Moss is going to hit a home run, he's going to have to hit a home run to left field. This is a big ballpark in left field. He shouldn't be getting something offspeed or in where he can pull the ball. We're going to make him hit the ball to left field once we got ahead of him. But he threw him a changeup up and on the plate. He knows."

Madson's blown save just reinforces how perilous the ninth inning has become for the Phillies this season. Lidge has blown a Major League-leading nine saves this season. Madson has blown five, including three in the ninth inning.

Madson officially served as the team's closer June 7-25, when Lidge spent time on the disabled list with an injured right knee. (He also picked up saves in Lidge's absence April 27 and June 2.)

He went 0-2 with a 5.00 ERA and two saves in four opportunities in nine appearances. In nine innings, he allowed 11 hits, five runs, five earned runs, four walks and three home runs and struck out 10. In his other 54 appearances before Wednesday, he went 4-2 with a 2.60 ERA. In 52 innings, he had allowed 42 hits, 16 runs, 15 earned runs, 15 walks and two home runs and had struck out 52.

"I think Madson can close," Manuel said. "I know he can close. It's kind of [like] Lidge. Get in a groove and get going."

But Howard saved the day. He crushed a first-pitch breaking ball off Pirates left-hander Phil Dumatrait into the right-field bleachers to win it.

"The Big Piece was right on time," Manuel said, referring to Howard. "He was running from behind, but caught up at the end. The Big Piece is all right, especially when he hits three-run bombs."

Howard is hitting .333 (23-for-69) with nine home runs and 28 RBIs in past 17 games.