PHILADELPHIA -- Cole Hamels stood in the center of the Phillies clubhouse Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park and tried to put his fourth start of the season into perspective.
He felt he has made strides since his first two starts, which were utterly forgettable, but he has not been perfect and that is what bothers him.
"You have to be better than good," he said following a 4-3 loss to the Cardinals. "In order to win ballgames, you have to be great all the time."
Those words hold especially true these days as the Phillies' offense continues to struggle in tremendous fashion. It collected 13 hits, its second-best total of the season, but could not come up with the big hit at the right time as it had runners at the corners with no outs in the ninth, but could not score the tying run.
The Phillies entered the night with the fourth-worst offense in the National League, averaging just 3.47 runs per game. They have not scored a run before the sixth inning or four or more runs in a game since April 10. They have not walked in four consecutive games, which is the longest streak in baseball since the White Sox went four consecutive games without one in August 2011. It is the longest streak in the National League since the D-backs went four consecutive games in August 2009.
The Phillies are just the fourth NL team since 1935 to play four consecutive games without a walk.
Everybody in the organization is well aware they are not scoring -- it is impossible to miss the string of zeros on the scoreboard night after night -- so they have turned to searching for silver linings in defeat.
"I felt like tonight we hit the ball good," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We had runners on base. That's the best we've hit in a while."
"We've been talking about that for a little bit now -- getting guys out there and doing things the right way and eventually things will work out and find holes in big spots," said Michael Young, who went 1-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to nine games. "It's tough to say that we're all the way there after a loss. But it was two good pitchers going at it and runs are going to be tough to come by. But I liked our approach out there, but at the same time, you want every positive out there to end up in a win."
Hamels allowed five hits, three runs and two walks and struck out eight in seven innings, but ran into some bad luck in the fourth. Hamels walked Matt Holliday to start the inning. Allen Craig followed with a fly ball to right-center field. John Mayberry Jr. moved into position to make the catch, but he flat-out slipped on the turf and the ball rolled past him to put runners on second and third with no outs. Yadier Molina then doubled down the right-field line to score both runners.
It looked at first glance like the ball landed in foul territory, but first-base umpire Alan Porter ruled it fair. The ball looked foul on one replay, but it was inconclusive.
"It looks to me that the ball did not hit the line like he said," Manuel said. "It looked like it was foul, but it was a close play. It was real close, but it looked to me like it was a foul ball."
The Phillies finally showed a pulse offensively in the sixth inning. Jimmy Rollins doubled down the right-field line, and Freddy Galvis doubled to deep center field to score Rollins and make it 1-0. Galvis started in left field in place of Domonic Brown, who left Wednesday's game because of a back issue. Galvis has started four games and finished one other this week. He is hitting .412 (7-for-17) with one double, one home run, three RBIs and two walks in that span.
Chase Utley singled up the middle to score Galvis and tie the game, 2-2. The Cardinals took a 3-2 lead in the seventh, but the Phillies came back to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning when Erik Kratz singled to score Mayberry.
Phillies setup man Mike Adams allowed a solo home run to Carlos Beltran in the eighth to hand St. Louis the victory.
Adams watched in disbelief as the ball barely cleared the fence.
"He struck it well," Adams said. "I thought maybe it was to the warning track or off the wall. But it stayed up and got out."
The Phillies had Revere on third and Kratz on first with no outs in the ninth. The Cardinals had the infield playing in when pinch-hitter Kevin Frandsen hit a grounder to Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma. He bobbled the ball, but the defensive positioning kept the speedy Revere at third.
"I'm pretty aggressive by nature," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I wanted to go for the win. I understand the road-home, people take different viewpoints in that regard. I thought we could have a couple things go our way and we could pull out a win and it happened to work out that way."
Rollins struck out swinging for the second out and Galvis grounded out to end the game.
"We had some good chances," Manuel said. "We couldn't cash in on them."
Maybe Friday, but until that actually happens Roy Halladay will need to be close to perfect.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.