TWO WEEKS earlier, Ryne Sandberg felt pretty good after his team's second straight win over the Los Angeles Dodgers and third straight win overall. It pushed the Phillies back to the .500 mark in the 3 weeks the team played without projected Opening Day starter Cole Hamels.
And Hamels was due to make his first start of the season the next day.
"There's something to be said about that," a proud Sandberg said of his team.
Hamels made his third start last night. And for the second time in as many starts, Hamels didn't look like a projected Opening Day starter or a former World Series MVP.
And the Phillies are a game under .500 in the 2 weeks since his return.
Hamels surrendered 10 hits - four of them for extra bases, two for home runs - and put the Phillies in a five-run deficit after five innings. Although Cody Asche made a valiant effort to bail out Hamels, the Phillies still fell to the Toronto Blue Jays, 6-5.
Juan Francisco's 10th-inning sacrifice fly off Antonio Bastardo brought home the game-winning run. Toronto scored its first five off Hamels.
"He was out there just not real sharp with his pitches, not sharp command, fell behind," Sandberg said. "They were on his fastball. They're a fastball-hitting team, and they didn't miss fastballs."
The Phillies have lost all three of Hamels' starts this season, and the last five dating back to last September, after he collected his 99th career win on Sept. 14 in Washington.
Hamels began the 2014 season on the DL after battling biceps tendinitis this offseason, and had his most recent start delayed by 2 days after experiencing flu-like symptoms. He has a 7.02 ERA after three starts.
"After these three starts, probably not [where I want to be]," Hamels said. "Where I'd want to be is 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA, 27 innings. But that's not the case. I just have to keep working, going out there, getting into a 5-day schedule I think will definitely help, get the routine going . . . It's just a matter of time to get there, but it needs to happen soon."
After looking sharp in his first start of the season 2 weeks ago in Los Angeles, Hamels has allowed 11 runs on 18 hits in his last two. The Blue Jays battered him regularly last night, beginning with a home run from Edwin Encarnacion to lead off the second inning.
The Jays tacked on three more off Hamels in the fourth. Colby Rasmus' two-run home run made it a 4-0 game.
"They're an aggressive team, so you don't want to throw pitches down the middle, but, at the same time, you can't try to be too fine," Hamels said. "The situations I got into trouble with was being too fine, trying to be on the corners, but I was missing. And then having to give in and throw strikes right to their strengths. They hit the ball out of the ballpark frequently, and they did so tonight."
The Phillies' offensive hero last night is no stranger to slow starts. Asche was hitting below the Mendoza Line 2 weeks ago.
But Asche (4-for-4) had a career high in hits, including a game-tying grand slam with two outs in the sixth inning.
The Phillies entered the sixth inning trailing, 5-0, and in the midst of a 21-inning scoreless drought. Before Carlos Ruiz doubled and scored on Ryan Howard's single in the sixth, the Phillies hadn't scored since Chase Utley's run-scoring hit in the first inning of Sunday's 1-0 win over Washington.
Although the offense stayed dormant for the first five innings last night, there were hints of a pulse. Marlon Byrd had a pair of doubles. Ruiz, hitting in the second spot in the lineup, got on base in two of his first three trips to the plate, and Asche was a hitter possessed.
Slotted in the eighth spot in the lineup, behind .056 hitter Freddy Galvis, Asche led off the third inning with a single to center off Jays starter Drew Hutchison to begin his night. He hit a one-out double in the fifth.
In the sixth, Ruiz led off with a double. The catcher is quietly hitting .308 this season, second on the team behind Utley. Utley and Howard followed with singles, making it three straight to reach on hits to begin the sixth off Hutchison, snapping the scoreless streak and putting a small dent into the Blue Jays' lead.
After Byrd popped out to first and the slumping Domonic Brown struck out, pinch-hitter John Mayberry Jr. worked a walk. Asche watched Hutchison throw another ball out of the zone to begin his third at-bat of the night.
And then he teed up a 1-0 changeup and sent it into the seats beyond the rightfield fence to tie the game.
The home run was Asche's second in his last three starts. He is 7-for-12 with four extra-base hits in those three games.
Since taking a .192 batting average (with three extra-base hits and 15 strikeouts) into his 20th game of the season on April 25, Asche is hitting .409 (9-for-22) with two home runs and three doubles in his last eight games.
Asche went through similar hot and cold streaks upon his call-up to the big leagues last season: He went 1-17 in first six major league games, then hit .299 (35-for-117) in his next 33 games, before finishing the year 1-for-21 in his last nine games.
"He can build on that and feel good about that," Sandberg said of Asche's breakout game. "He had a great night at the plate, and that's something he can take forward and build on it."
Asche entered the night hitting .214 and exited it hitting .257. But his offensive heroics could not make up for his teammates' offensive deficiencies in the first half of the game and Hamels' second straight off-kilter start.
Although the Phillies (15-16) erased the deficit Hamels created, they never claimed a lead. They dropped their second straight game to the Jays and fell back below .500.