But then, a funny thing happened: Each of the next two batters reached base in the fourth inning, Ryan Howard on a walk and Marlon Byrd by getting hit with another pitch. And then Domonic Brown brought both home with a booming double.
And then Brown busted it around the rest of the bases, scoring from second on a weakly hit single to left from John Mayberry Jr.
“That’s what good ballclubs do, they do things like that,” Brown said afterward. “You pick each other up.”
From the fourth inning until the last out, the Phillies played like a team desperate for their first win in a week. And finally, when the game did end, their fortunes finally changed.
After the Phillies scored those three runs off Cueto in the fourth inning, they rode the left arm of Cole Hamels the rest of the way in a 8-0 victory over Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park.
Utley might have been picked off first base for the first time in his career, but he also reached base in each of his first four plate appearances and finished the night with three hits and an RBI. Brown, mired in a seasonlong slump, collected three RBI and helped steer Cueto to his shortest start of the season. Jimmy Rollins hit a home run, his seventh, surpassing his 2013 season total in 104 fewer games.
But most of the night belonged to Hamels.
After failing to find a groove in the season’s first 2 months, which admittedly included a 3-week stay on the disabled list to start the season, Hamels tapped into his $144 million talent. After watching the Phillies lose seven of his first eight starts of 2014, Hamels dominated, leaving little doubt to the game’s result.
“Cole was outstanding,” manager Ryne Sandberg said.
Hamels retired six in a row to begin the night, three via strikeout. He allowed only one baserunner to get beyond second base in his first six innings.
Hamels didn’t allow an extra-base hit until Ryan Ludwick led off the seventh with a double. But then Hamels helped erase him from the bases, applying a swift tag on Ludwick at home plate after catcher Carlos Ruiz quickly recovered a pitch that bounced toward the backstop.
“Unbelievable play,” Sandberg said.
“I saw him running and all it took was a good throw, and I was able to get that tag down,” Hamels said. “It was very fortunate everything worked the right way, because you don’t see that work. It was perfect. And that’s a good thing.”
Hamels pitched into the eighth inning for the first time this season. He lasted three more innings than Cueto.
Hamels nearly handed the ball over after eight shutout innings, but issued a two-out walk to Brandon Phillips in the seventh. Mike Adams took over to get the final out of the eighth before Jonathan Papelbon handled the ninth with ease.
Hamels threw 7 2/3 shutout innings, holding the Reds to five hits, while striking out seven and walking two.
“I’ve been feeling really good healthwise, all of the workouts I’ve been able to put forth, the training, just getting in the right frame of mind,” Hamels said. “Everything is working. … and these are the results you’re seeing.”
Hamels improved to 5-0 with a 1.09 ERA in seven career starts in Cincinnati, and 10-0 with a 1.36 ERA in 13 starts overall against the Reds. Those numbers include both regular season and postseason starts.
Hamels said his ability to continue to handle the Reds, one start after the next, is a byproduct of making his first major league start in Cincinnati 8 years ago. Hamels threw five shutout innings in an 8-4 victory on May 12, 2006, at Cincinnati.
“Anytime I’m here or I’m going up against that team, it’s what I associate, those positive memories,” Hamels said. “That kind of jumpstarts [it].”
Hamels also had his most dominating postseason start in Cincinnati: He threw a five-hit shutout in Game 3 of the 2010 National League Division Series to complete a sweep and send the Phillies to their third straight National League Championship Series. That game and his first career major league start are in his top three most memorable games in Cincinnati.
The other came when he helped save a season.
On April 21, 2007, the Phillies were 4-11 and manager Charlie Manuel held a closed-door team meeting before the game. Hamels held the Reds to one run and struck out 15 in a complete game effort, the first of a five-game win streak.
“I remember it, I remember the fun meeting,” Hamels said. “I was kind of young. I didn’t know what to do. ‘I’m just going to go out, pitch and show them what I’m capable of doing.’”
The Phillies (24-35) are further into the season and in worse shape 7 years later.
“Hopefully, guys can take this in the right stride, come in tomorrow with the same approach and battle,” Hamels said. “It’s not easy. 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 to crawl tooth and nail to get back to the type of baseball we know we’re capable of playing, and obviously the place in the standings that really matters.”
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21