SAN FRANCISCO - Terms like rock bottom are thrown out far too often, especially by people who spend their summer following one of the worst teams in Philadelphia baseball history around the country.
It's not a term that should be used lightly, though. In fact, it's not a term that should be used at all when there are still games to be played on the schedule, managers to quit unexpectedly, late-night trips to the disabled list for former All-Stars, and, well, you get the point.
Watching Cole Hamels at AT&T Park on Friday night was not the rock bottom moment of the 2015 season - although you could argue the case if he had been removed from the game with a season-ending injury.
Here's what seeing Hamels get beaten and bloodied against the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants was: demoralizing.
Not that the morale of a team with 60 losses with two games remaining before the All-Star break is a major concern. But, this is what has transpired in the last three nights for the 25 men who suit up in Phillies uniform and still attempt to play a competitive brand of baseball, in spite of the odds:
The Phillies were shut out on back to back nights, getting man-handled by two of the game's greatest pitchers, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, before they could escape L.A. Then on Friday, they sent their own ace to the mound in an attempt to swing the tide the other way, and he allows right runs in a single inning.
Hamels watched six straight Giants reach on hits in an eight-run fourth inning, capped by an opposite-field grand slam from former teammate Hunter Pence, as the Phillies were walloped 15-2 in San Francisco.
"I wouldn't say I was as sharp as I'm capable of being," Hamels said. "And when that happens and you're trying to find your rhythm and trying to find grips just to stay true to the pitches. … Sometimes you just have to battle and sometimes it doesn't go your way."
And sometimes you have the worst start of your career.
The nine earned runs Hamels allowed were a career high; the 12 hits he gave up tied a career high. Hamels' ERA blew up from 3.02 to 3.63 in the span of his 3 1/3 innings of work, his shortest start since April 5, 2011, when he pitched 2 2/3 innings.
"You have to keep battling," Hamels said. "This game can be a physical and mental grind. It's not easy. You just have to be able to make the best of the situation, take it for what it is and build on it."
After seeing Kershaw and Greinke deal, the Phillies were eager to see their own top gun match pitching wits with fellow former World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner. Instead, a severe baseball beating.
The Giants had 22 hits when the night came to an end, the most they've ever had in a 9-inning home game since moving to San Francisco in 1958.
It was just the kind of game that made one think, hey, maybe Ryne Sandberg had it right when he simply walked away two weeks ago.
"Cole is a very competitive person, otherwise he wouldn't be as successful as he has been," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's no question in my mind that he competed out there tonight. You can't have a real good inning every time you go out there. Tonight was probably one of his worst and one he'd like to forget about the most. It compounds when you're in a losing situation. Everything gets compounded."
This was the second time in less than 48 hours that Mackanin referred to the team's losing getting into the head of his playoff-tested pitcher.
"It's not a year that you can ever prepare for," Hamels said of the grind that has been his 2015 season, one filled with losses and trade rumors alike.
"He's not alone in his frustrations," Mackanin said. "There are a lot of people that are frustrated. It probably has something to do with it, but it is what it is."
Hamels' nightmarish night came three weeks to the day baseball's trade deadline. No, one terrible (that's putting it mildly) night will not affect his value. The back of his baseball card for the last half decade, along with his sturdy work in 2015, hold considerably more weight among baseball's trade brokers.
Hamels would like to be somewhere else come July 31, and preferably earlier.
He would have liked to be somewhere else on Friday, too.
"There's a lot going on, and it affected him," Mackanin said. "But I know he's much better than that. I mean, who knows, he may be pressing knowing the trading deadline is coming around and there are so many little things that players think about that you can't control."
Unlike many of his starts over the last three years, this wasn't the fault of an offense not giving him enough to work with, a defense that left a lot to be desired, or a team simply lacking basic fundamentals.
This was on him.
"When you're not able to make the right pitches at the right time and you're leaving pitches out over the plate, confidence can get build, especially with a good team," Hamels said. "You're trying to execute, and when you don't necessarily execute, you at least have to know that some of those hits are going to go to somebody. Unfortunately, they had great at-bats. They were hitting the balls up the middle. They were staying on pitches no matter what I was throwing in that inning."
Hamels' 18th start of the season began ominously. He allowed three straight hits in the first inning, but managed to escape with just one run allowed after a double play and a strikeout, throwing a 94-MPH fastball up and out of the zone to get Pence.
But, there was one moment of frustration in the inning, on the play where the run scored. Maikel Franco fielded a ground ball off he bat of Buster Posey, and instead of throwing home for the start of a 5-2-3 double play, he went for the more traditional, 5-4-3 double play. The difference was the Giants grabbing a 1-0 lead.
"I would assume that," Hamels said on whether he expected Franco to throw home. "Just in the situation of what you're trying to do, especially early in the game. For certain teams, when you're scoring a lot of runs, it's understandable you can give a run here or there. But when it's hard to come by with runs … you definitely got to prevent the run from happening. … I can only do so much when I release the pitch."
The next two innings were drama-free. The fourth inning even began harmlessly, with Hamels needing just three pitches to strike out Giants All-Star shortstop Brandon Crawford.
And then the McCovey Cove floodgates opened at Bay Area ballpark.
Brandon Belt ripped a ground-rule double to center and Bumgarner followed with a single. Angel Pagan brought both home with a base hit. Joe Panik, Matt Duffy and Buster Posey reeled off three more singles. All three crossed the plate with Pence after the wild-haired, unconventional-swinging right fielder jumped on a 1-2 fastball and poked it inside the right field foul line for a slam.
"The moment it left my hand," Hamels said, "I knew it wasn't going to be something good."
After Pence rounded the bases, Mackanin made his way to the mound and took out the 31-year-old pitcher who had allowed eight straight batters to reach, capped by six straight hits, in the worst inning of his lifetime.
The eight earned runs were the most Hamels has ever allowed in a major league inning.
Seven years ago this month, on July 26, 2008, Hamels helped the Atlanta Braves put up a nine-spot on the visiting half of the scoreboard at Citizens Bank Park in the fourth inning of an eventual 10-9 win, but only four of those runs were earned. There were two errors in that forgettable fourth inning, one from Chase Utley and another from Hamels himself.
The fact that the eventual World Champion Phillies pulled off an improbable win that night obviously softened the blow.
On Friday, there was no victory, moral or otherwise. The Phillies (29-60) simply watched their best player have his worst night, in a season that's been full of such nights for three months.
"No amount of experience can put you into that sort of situation," Hamels said of careening his way through a season unlike any he's had since arriving in the big leagues nine years ago. "My job is to be able to go throw the baseball and do it as best I can and the way that I know I'm capable of doing. But you do, you have a lot of things that are out of your control so you have to realize that you can't try to make it something that you can control.