CINCINNATI — We’ve heard it often as the Phillies try to stay in this National League wild-card race:
You must win the games Aaron Nola pitches.
But to win those games, two things must happen:
One, the Phillies have to get Nola some runs.
And, two, Nola has to pitch well.
The first part of the formula has been missing lately. On Wednesday night, the first part of the formula was present, but the second was not.
Nola was off his game and the Phillies suffered a damaging 8-5 loss to the Cincinnati Reds (see takeaways).
“Oh, yeah,” said Nola, not sugarcoating anything. “Really off. Curveball was probably one of the worst it has been this year.
“I really didn’t have much. I got a lot of guys to two strikes, but I just didn’t put them away.”
The Phillies have lost three straight Nola starts. That's a killer. In two of them, he pitched well but could not overcome one bad inning because he received little run support.
In this one, the offense, on the strength of three homers — two-run shots by Logan Morrison and J.T. Realmuto in the fifth and a solo blow by Jay Bruce in the seventh — got Nola off the hook after he was tagged for five early runs. The homers by Morrison and Bruce were both pinch-hit shots. Bruce’s tied the game. But moments later, Jose Alvarez allowed a tie-breaking pinch-hit homer to Jose Iglesias in the bottom of the seventh inning and the Reds salted it away with a two-run homer by reliever Michael Lorenzen against Blake Parker in the bottom of the eighth.
The Phillies' bullpen had been outstanding — 9 2/3 innings, one run — in the first two games of the series, both wins. It could not duplicate that success in this one.
Amazingly, Lorenzen got a blown save (he allowed Bruce’s homer), the win and clubbed a homer all in the same game. His work was just one entertaining element in the game. Phillies rookie centerfielder Adam Haseley made a sensational, wall-climbing catch to take away a homer from old friend Freddy Galvis moments before Lorenzen’s homer in the eighth.
The soft-spoken Haseley was so nonchalant after making the eye-popping catch that his teammates in the dugout did not know he’d made the catch until he ran away from the wall and took the ball out of his glove.
“He’s a showman,” Brad Miller said.
Haseley denied any theatrics.
“Honestly,” he said, “I think I was in shock.”
The loss was costly. It dropped the Phillies to 72-66, three games behind the idle Chicago Cubs for the second spot in the NL wild-card chase. The Phillies need to start stringing together wins in a hurry if they’re going to catch the Cubs — and, oh, by the way, the Arizona Diamondbacks are suddenly on the Phillies’ tail (see standings).
The Cubs and Phillies both have 24 games remaining. The Cubs are 75-63. If they play .500 ball the rest of the way, the Phils would need to go 15-9 just to tie.
It’s not going to be easy.
Especially if they continue to lose the games that Nola starts.
“I think what's most frustrating is we had an opportunity to pick up Aaron today,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He's picked us up so many times along the way. He's been there for us. He's been a rock and a foundation. He's carried us in many ways. It would have been really nice on a day he didn't have his best command for us to somehow squeeze this game out. We have to find a way to win that game. Some of our bats did everything they could. Logan Morrison comes off the bench, a big pinch-hit home run. Jay Bruce does the same. It really feels like we're going to be able to weather the storm. Certainly it’s disappointing to not be able to pull it off in the end. I'm kind of glad there's a day game [Thursday] so we can get back here as quickly as possible and try to win the series.”
Jason Vargas will start for the Phillies. All-Star right-hander Sonny Gray goes for the Reds.
And you know what they say:
You must win the games Jason Vargas pitches.
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