TORONTO — Rhys Hoskins raised his right hand as he neared second base on Sunday afternoon, lifted two fingers, and gestured to the relievers who cheered from the bullpen.
The Phillies' first two days in Canada were difficult. The clubhouse after losses Friday and Saturday carried a much more dire tone than losses in June and July. It is almost September. The Phillies are chasing a playoff spot. And each loss stings that much more.
But as Hoskins stepped on second base in the first inning of an 8-3 win and his home run landed in left field, everything seemed OK.
The Phillies lost 12 of their last 18 games before Sunday. Yet they still were just three games behind Atlanta for the division lead. The Phillies have played their worst stretch of the season. They have endured a series of rough nights. But on Sunday, they were still standing.
"September baseball is what we're looking at right now," said Hoskins, becoming the first Phillies player in seven years to use the phrase "September baseball."
Hoskins' homer was followed by a blast from Carlos Santana as the Phillies hit back-to-back homers for the third time this season.
Hoskins and Santana set the perfect tone. The Phils tacked on another run in the second on an RBI double from Wilson Ramos. Maikel Franco celebrated his 26th birthday with a two-run homer in the third. The Phillies had a five-run lead, which brought flashbacks to Saturday when the Phils blew a 5-0 lead. But there was no collapse Sunday.
"Certainly a lot of life in the dugout before the game. There was a noticeable energy change in the dugout from yesterday to today," manager Gabe Kapler said. "Our guys sensed the urgency of today's game. And Rhys led the way by coming out and hitting that big home run for us."
Vince Velasquez struck out six, walked three, and allowed two runs on three hits in five innings before Kapler aggressively pulled him after just 84 pitches. The manager would take no chances after the way the team's Canadian weekend began. Luis Garcia, Hector Neris, Tommy Hunter, and Seranthony Dominguez pieced together the final 12 outs. The Phillies had a win.
They will play 15 of their next 21 games at home beginning Monday with the opener of three-game series against the Nationals, who went 32 innings this weekend before scoring a run. The Phillies have the second most home wins in the National League. If there's a chance for the Phillies to get hot, this could be it.
Jake Arrieta said after Friday night's loss that "there's really nothing magical you can say." The team simply needed to play better, he said. Hoskins was sitting across the room when Arrieta said that. And Hoskins said Sunday that Arrieta said it perfectly.
The Phillies will play seven of their final 11 September games against the Braves. Even after a rough stretch, it is almost impossible to think those games will not carry meaning.
"I've never lost confidence in our team," Velasquez said. "We have our ups and downs. That's what baseball is all about. We still have a whole month left and I don't think we have any doubts of what we're capable of displaying. We still have a lot of time left and what we displayed today is pretty much what we're capable of in the next month."
Hoskins followed his homer with a single in the eighth to move Cesar Hernandez from first to third. Santana drove in Hernandez with a sacrifice fly and Ramos delivered the big blow with a two-run homer to center. The Phillies' lead felt safe.
Hoskins trailed Ramos back to the dugout and stood a few feet behind as Phillies players poured sunflower seeds onto Ramos' head. After a rough stretch for the Phillies, everything felt OK.