SAN FRANCISCO — Before each game, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin and his coaching staff decide who will take the lineup card to home plate. If the Phillies win that game, the same person takes the lineup card out the next day to see if he can keep the ball rolling.
The Phillies entered Thursday night's game against the San Francisco Giants having lost four in a row. Mackanin needed someone to break the skid.
At first, there were no volunteers. Then it dawned on hitting coach Matt Stairs: It was Aaron Nola's turn to pitch.
"I'll take it!" Stairs offered.
Who wouldn't want to hitch their wagon to Nola the way the right-hander had pitched lately? In his previous 10 starts, he'd delivered at least six innings and allowed no more than two runs while racking up a glistening 1.71 ERA, the best in the majors over the span.
Stairs won't be taking out the lineup card Friday night. Nola's run of brilliance ended in a 5-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants to AT&T Park (see Instant Replay).
Nola went just five innings, his shortest outing since June 11. He gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks.
"I was just falling behind in counts, getting in good hitter's counts," Nola said. "I made some mistakes and they hit the ball well."
Command down in the zone and movement is Nola's calling card. But on this night …
"He didn’t have his good command," Mackanin said. "You never want [a run like Nola had been on] to stop. But, once again, he was just a little bit off. He didn't pitch poorly. He just didn't pitch as well as he usually does.
"He got hurt in that fifth inning."
In that inning, the Giants turned a 2-1 lead into a 5-1 lead. Nola allowed four straight batters to reach base with one out. Jarrett Parker had the big hit, a two-run double on a hanging, first-pitch changeup.
Nola blamed himself for pitching behind in the count often.
Catcher Cameron Rupp thought home plate umpire Stu Scheurwater had a tight strike zone, especially on pitches down. But Nola had no qualms with balls and strikes.
"It could have gone both ways, but the umpire was pretty consistent in that area," Nola said. "I was still getting behind in the count. I didn’t think I was missing too bad, but I was missing. I was 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 a lot. I left some balls up and they used all parts of the field."
Nola's velocity was a tick down, but he said he felt fine. He added that, for matchup reasons, he threw a lot of two-seam fastballs. That pitch is not as firm as his four-seamer.
Nick Williams started a three-run rally with a leadoff homer against Giants starter Jeff Samardzija in the top of the sixth as the Phils made it a one-run game. Lefty reliever Hoby Milner got five big outs to keep the deficit at one run, but the Phils did nothing against the Giants' bullpen.
Samardzija went six innings for the win. He gave up four runs and eight hits, two of which were homers. One of the homers was a long, opposite field drive by Rupp. It cleared the high right-field wall. Not too many right-handed hitters take it up there, but Rupp did.
"It was good to see Rupp hit that opposite-field home run," Mackanin said. "That's a long poke. Williams hit a bomb. That had to be 420 feet, something like that. (Rhys) Hoskins with a couple of hits. Freddy (Galvis) with a double and a triple. We hung in there. We got behind and came back. We just couldn't convert."
The loss dropped the Phillies to a majors-worst 43-76. They are a season-high 33 games under .500. They are a dreadful 19-45 on the road and 6-20 against the NL West. They were swept three games in San Diego before coming up the coast to San Francisco.
"This California weather," Mackanin said. "I don't know. We don't seem to really handle pitchers that we don't see [often] well. That may have something to do with it. They're not accustomed to seeing these pitchers. When you're in your own division, it's a lot easier to know what's coming."