WASHINGTON — To say the Aaron Nola-Max Scherzer matchup lived up to the hype would be an understatement.
Thursday's series finale at Nationals Park was the first pitching matchup this late in the season between two starters with ERAs lower than 2.25 since 1985.
Both Cy Young candidates dazzled, but Nola was simply better in the 2-0 win.
A long eighth inning prevented Nola from a chance at his first career complete game. He allowed just five hits over eight shutout innings with nine strikeouts, none bigger than his two-out K of Bryce Harper with two men on and the crowd rocking in the eighth inning.
Pat Neshek pitched a clean ninth for his fourth save of the season. He has a 1.06 ERA in 19 appearances.
The Phillies, after mustering just one hit in the first six innings, got to Scherzer in the seventh inning when Odubel Herrera hit a no-doubt two-run homer to right field, his 20th of the season.
It was a big moment for both Herrera, who has been maligned lately because of his lengthy slump, and for the Phillies, who had lost four in a row.
This sorely needed win makes the Phillies 69-58. They travel tonight to Toronto for a three-game series against a Blue Jays team that is 11 games under .500.
Just enough vs. Scherzer
The Phillies had only two hits off Scherzer — the Herrera home run and a single from Jorge Alfaro that ricocheted off shortstop Trea Turner's glove.
They did, however, make Scherzer work a bit. This was the first time all season Scherzer walked four batters in a game, and the fourth free pass (Maikel Franco's second of the day) directly preceded Herrera's homer.
Scherzer struck out 10 over his seven innings.
This was the 14th time the Phillies have faced Scherzer since he joined the Nationals. They are now 2-12 in those games.
Herrera's big hit
Nothing about Herrera makes sense, so of course he has great career numbers against Scherzer.
Herrera's 13 for 39 (.333) against the three-time Cy Young-winner with a homer, a triple, three doubles and seven walks.
It was Herrera's first extra-base hit in 12 games and his first home run since July 27.
For the Phillies to stay in the playoff race — they came into Thursday three games behind in the division and 1½ back in the wild-card — they will need one of Herrera's red-hot streaks. It's been quite a while since he was consistently productive.
Over his last 300 plate appearances exactly, Herrera has hit just .223/.268/.390.
Inside Nola's outing
At one point in this game, Nola had recorded 20 outs and thrown just 22 balls. As usual, he worked quickly, rarely fell behind and had all four pitches working.
In only the eighth inning did Nola put multiple runners on base. It was his highest-pressure situation all day, after a two-out double from Adam Eaton and a Trea Turner walk. Harper represented the go-ahead run with two outs in the eighth, but with Neshek warming in the 'pen, Nola struck Harper out swinging on a 2-2 high fastball.
Nola is 15-3 with a 2.14 ERA. Scherzer is 16-6 with a 2.13 ERA.
The Phillies are 18-4 in Nola's last 22 starts.
Bad timing for Bour injury
It looks like the Phillies will be without Justin Bour for a while. The first baseman strained his oblique on his final swing Wednesday night.
Hitters, on average, require 27 days to return from an oblique injury, according to a study conducted in early 2017 (see story).
On to Canada.
Friday night at 7:07 — Jake Arrieta (9-8, 3.25) vs. LHP Ryan Borucki (2-3, 4.27)
Saturday afternoon at 4:07 — Nick Pivetta (7-10, 4.66) vs. TBA
Sunday afternoon at 1:07 — Vince Velasquez (8-9, 4.06) vs. Marco Estrada (7-9, 4.88)