This is how it is every start for Cole Hamels: He is supposed to win.

He is supposed to win because he is considered the only sure thing the Phillies have, the only pitcher who, when his turn comes around, has a weight of expectation leaning against him, as if the game is nearly in the win column before it is played.

"He's our horse and when he goes out, we expect him to win the game, of course," manager Charlie Manuel said.

This is understandable, but it is not how baseball works, and no one knows that better than Manuel.

Even for a pitcher as talented as Hamels, there are no sure things, no layups, no gimme putts. Every start involves trying to throw a baseball past professional baseball hitters, which is a perilous way to make a living.

Last night, Hamels went to the mound, carrying all of those expectations but without his best control. The Phils were in first place and motoring along fairly well, but they had lost two of three over the weekend and it would be nice if they began to win home games more regularly.

Getting the team going again was the job that fell to Hamels. It was expected. Lined up behind him in the rotation are Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton, Antonio Bastardo, and J.A. Happ, all of whom are major-leaguers, but none of whom are Cole Hamels. Not that he minds the pressure.

"I think he likes that," Manuel had said before the game. "I like the competitive part that comes out. He's very determined. He wants to be the best pitcher in baseball . . . the competitive part of him is off the charts."

So Hamels took the ball and went to work, even though his fastball was riding out of the strike zone and his curveball couldn't seem to find it, either. He had a change-up and he had guts, and on this night it was very nearly enough.

But not enough, as it turned out in the end, even though Hamels worked through hoops of fire to hold the Toronto Blue Jays to just two runs in six innings.

Hamels trudged through a long second inning in which he suffered a rare leadoff walk and eventually had to work out of a bases-loaded problem. Two innings later, he needed 35 pitches to escape the fourth inning, but not before giving up four hits and a pair of runs that pushed Toronto ahead, 2-1.

Two innings after that, in the sixth, he gave up a single to lead off the inning and then a pair of infield hits that Jimmy Rollins could knock down but nothing more. But with the bases loaded and no outs, Hamels again got out of the inning, pushing his pitch total to 110 and ending his night.

"They had some good swings at him, but he battled through it," Manuel said. "I felt he kept us in the game."

If baseball likes to reward those who deserve it, the game rewarded Hamels when Jayson Werth hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth to put the Phillies ahead, 3-2, and put Hamels in line for a workmanlike win instead of a difficult loss.

It didn't work out that way, however, even though Hamels had given his team a chance. The bullpen split up the remaining innings of regulation and kept the lead - with help from an eighth-inning mind melt on the bases by Toronto - until a couple of hits and a couple of walks added up on Ryan Madson in the ninth.

And so the game tumbled into extra innings, and Hamels didn't get his fifth win, remaining at 4-2 for the season instead. The Phillies, who were about to win for the eighth time in the last nine starts by Hamels, didn't do that, either, as Clay Condrey and Tyler Walker combined to give up five runs in the 10th and they lost, 8-3.

If it seems a long way to Sunday and the next start for Hamels, that's because it is. If it seems a long way to you, imagine how long it seems to Manuel and the Phillies.

Not because anything is a sure thing in baseball. Last night, playing against a team that had lost four straight and was scuffling to stay above .500, proved that.

But because Hamels gives the Phillies their best chance - and that's a terrible thing to waste.

For his career, Hamels is 42-25. If he can keep up that pace through 100 decisions, which is where the Phillies begin their overall rankings, his .627 winning percentage would place him second in the history of the franchise. (He'd trail only Grover Cleveland Alexander - .676 - whose numbers are great but have little relation to modern-day baseball.)

There are lots of wins still ahead, and he will collect a bunch of them.

"He wants to be good and he is good," Manuel said.

Not good enough last night, though, and now they must wait through four games of hoping to win before the next one they are supposed to win.

Contact columnist Bob Ford
at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.