CINCINNATI - There were no words for Cole Hamels to describe the sensation. The very few, the athletes who have reached the highest level, they would understand what Hamels feels every time he steps onto the mound at Great American Ballpark. He will forever be tied to this stadium beside a river, because he threw his first-ever pitch on May 12, 2006, here.
He did not save the Phillies season with 72/3 shutout innings Friday in an 8-0 romp over the Reds. That, Hamels said, will require a month of sterling baseball. But the lefthander embraced his favorite setting.
"Anytime I'm here and going up against that team, it's what I associate, those positive memories," Hamels said. "That kind of jump-starts me. When I face them, when I'm here, things are already in a better zone."
A six-game losing streak evaporated in a rare display of competent baseball. One win does not cure the current malaise. The Phillies have lost 20 of their last 30 games. They occupy last place in the National League East, and could spend the remainder of the summer there, barring a turnaround.
It starts with nights like Friday, with contributions from various players. Domonic Brown lashed a first-pitch Johnny Cueto cutter to the left-field corner in the fourth inning. Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd scampered home. Brown pointed to the Phillies dugout, which erupted in celebration.
For the first time in nine days, the Phillies held a lead of more than one run.
"It was a good night," Ryne Sandberg said, one that we can build on."
The Phillies manager wondered before the game how his team would respond to gut-punching adversity. Three runs in the fourth inning provided breathing room for Hamels.
Hamels pitched like a $144 million ace. The Phillies needed someone to stop the bleeding, and Hamels fired 125 pitches. He has started 13 times against Cincinnati in his career. The Phillies have won every single time, including his major-league debut in 2006 and a division-series clincher in 2010.
"That's probably what he feeds off of," Sandberg said. "Positive thoughts and memories."
Hamels' ERA is 3.49. He received support; the key rally occurred after Chase Utley - one of the game's best baserunners - was picked off first base for the second out of the fourth. Howard, whose on-base percentage dipped below .300 in recent days, walked. Byrd was struck by a 94-m.p.h. fastball.
Brown lugged a .567 OPS into Friday. That ranked 164th among 168 qualified hitters. But Sandberg has extended great faith in his leftfielder. The Phillies' best chance is for Brown to swing his way out of the prolonged slump.
One two-run swing eased tensions. Brown is batting .333 with runners in scoring position.
"I don't know if it's focus or what," Brown said. "I've been taking that same approach the last couple of weeks. I know with time and playing every day I'll be back where I need to be."
This all happened against Cueto, the majors' ERA leader at 1.68 before he encountered the Phillies. He lasted five innings Friday, his shortest start in 2014.
Jimmy Rollins battered a first-pitch Cueto slider in the fifth for a solo homer that plopped just inside the right-field foul pole. Rollins crept closer to Mike Schmidt's franchise hit mark; he is just seven shy of breaking the record. The Phillies added four runs in the ninth for a rout.
The issue is what comes next. Roberto Hernandez and David Buchanan will oppose Alfredo Simon and Homer Bailey this weekend. The Phillies have not patched together a winning streak of more than three games in a year's time. They require one now.
"It's not easy," Hamels said. "We've dug ourselves a pretty big hole. We're going to have to grind and claw our way out. It's not going to be something that happens overnight. It's going to take all month."