OAKLAND — The only person who did not appear awed by Rich Harden's performance Thursday was Rich Harden.
He certainly earned the praise of the Philadelphia Phillies, who reached base just three times against him over eight innings of a 5-0 A's victory that showcased why Harden is considered to have some of the game's nastiest stuff.
Equally impressed were Harden's teammates, who never had a chance to get comfortable at their positions before trotting back into the dugout.
And he certainly boosted his stock in the eyes of front-office types around the majors who might try to pry him away from the A's as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.
As for the right-hander himself? He's felt better.
"There are a lot of games when you feel really good and don't pitch well," he said. —"... I've had games where I've felt better this year, but I have that one inning where I lose my command."
That didn't happen Thursday, as Harden struck out a career-high 11 and allowed just two hits, both off the bat of Shane Victorino. It was Harden's longest outing since he went eight innings against the Angels on April 21, 2006.
He has two complete games on his resume.
"That might be the best game pitched against us," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, whose team also has faced Tim Lincecum, Johan Santana and Brandon Webb this season.
"Santana kind of reminds me of this guy in terms of overpowering
Victorino's first hit was a blooper to right-center with two outs in the fifth that broke up Harden's perfect game. Victorino led off the eighth with a high chopper to the first-base side of the mound that Harden lost in the sun for one of the odder infield singles you'll see.
Other than that, a sixth-inning walk to Carlos Ruiz was the only other blemish for Harden, who left after 95 pitches.
Many in the crowd of 17,228 didn't think he should have left the game. Boos rang out as Alan Embree trotted in from the A's bullpen for the ninth.
A's manager Bob Geren said before the game that Harden would remain on a pitch count in the 90 to 100 range as a precaution, as Harden is enjoying his first stretch of extended good health since the 2005 season.
Asked if he would have sent Harden out for the ninth if he had a no-hitter going, Geren said he "might" have before answering with a more definitive yes.
Harden didn't seem bent out of shape for coming out.
"I asked them (about pitching the ninth), but I think they had kind of made up their mind. That's fine," he said.
His fastball routinely reached the mid-90s, but it was his dancing changeup that seemed to give the Phillies fits in particular.
"He can throw his changeup in any count and any situation," A's catcher Rob Bowen said. "It's fun to go out and (catch) a guy like that."
Harden received all the support he needed in the A's two-run first off Adam Eaton (2-6). Mark Ellis led off with a walk and scored on Ryan Sweeney's double. Sweeney came around to score on Jack Cust's single, a play on which Sweeney suffered a sprained left ankle in his slide at the plate and left the game.
Rookie Carlos Gonzalez's second career homer made it 3-0 in the sixth, and the A's tacked on two more in the eighth.
Harden hadn't pitched more than six innings in his three previous starts and was pleased to work deeper.
"When I get in trouble, sometimes I rear back and throw as hard as I can," he said. "That's what I want to get away from. I want to have a purpose with every pitch."
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HARD 'N' FAST
Rich Harden's pitching line against the Phillies:
IP H R ER BB SO
8 2 0 0 1 11
How Harden has fared since returning from the disabled list on May 11:
W-L G IP H BB SO ERA
4-0 9 56 40 19 68 2.41