Aaron Nola silences Braves and 'it feels like we have our ace back'

Aaron Nola silences Braves and 'it feels like we have our ace back'

ATLANTA — If the Phillies are going to snap a seven-year playoff drought, they will need to add a pair of difference-making arms — one in the starting rotation, one in the bullpen — this month.

They will need more firepower and consistency from their existing lineup.

And they will need Aaron Nola to keep delivering the way he has the last dozen days.

Nola racked up his third straight brilliant start on Tuesday night and it could not have come at a more important time. His eight shutout innings led a 2-0 win over the Atlanta Braves in the first game of a big three-game series.

Nola threw a career-high 117 pitches and held a Braves lineup that slugged 64 doubles and 56 homers in June to just four hits. On a hot Georgia night, his fastball reached 95 mph right into the eighth inning. He struck out eight.

After finishing third in the NL Cy Young voting last season, Nola had been inconsistent over the first half of this season. But he appears to have turned the corner in his last three starts thanks to his finding command of his fastball. He has given up just 11 hits and one earned run over 23 innings in those starts and struck out 28.

"It feels like we have our ace back," manager Gabe Kapler said. "It feels like we have our horse back."

The NL East is a long way from being decided. But the Phillies, who went from three games up on Atlanta to 5½ games back in the month of June, can't afford to fall much farther behind if they are going to be a factor in the race. That's why this series is so important: They must stop the bleeding and stabilize. Nola made a statement in the series opener.

"It was one of the better performances we've seen from him in the last couple of years," Kapler said. "Obviously, going through this lineup more than three times is something. It's a pretty impressive feat. He seemed to get stronger as the outing went on. The fastball velocity maintained all the way throughout. In some ways, it probably got stronger. We saw a 96 pop up on the stadium gun one time. The 95s were pretty consistent. He also had some of his best command that we've seen this season — both sides of the plate, even elevated at times. The curveball was really good from the beginning."

The Phillies' bats didn't exactly tear it up against lefty Dallas Keuchel, whose fastball did not reach 90 mph. Keuchel paid the price for a leadoff single and a two-out walk in the fourth when Jay Bruce doubled home the only two runs of the game (more observations here).

Nola made that lead stand up.

"He was awesome," Bruce said. "He really set the tone for us. He had a nice tempo. He was attacking the zone and not letting us stay out there too long which is huge.

"It was pretty classic Nola. That was as hard as I've seen him throw. He was attacking. He had a good curveball and used his changeup when he needed it."

Nola wasn't the only Phillies pitcher to come up big in the series opener. Hector Neris struck out the side in the ninth for his 17th save.

But Nola was the story.

With his pitch count climbing over 90, the right-hander pitched out of trouble in the sixth inning then came out and got the Braves 1-2-3 on seven pitches in the seventh.

That earned him the eighth.

"As we decided whether to send him out there for the eighth inning, it was really about performance to that point," Kapler said. "One of the questions I always ask myself is, 'Who is best suited to get the next two or three outs?' And it felt like the answer was clearly Nola at that point."

The Phillies made a slight alteration in their rotation to get Nola the start in the first game of the series. The move also sets him up to pitch the final game before the All-Star break Sunday in New York.

"This is a big win tonight for us, especially over here," Nola said. "These guys have been playing really good the past month, month and a half. A win in the first game of the series is always big. We've got to keep stepping on the pedal the rest of the series.

"They've been playing a little better than us the past month, but it's baseball. That doesn't really matter. The game today mattered. The game tomorrow matters now."

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Phillies fans who angered Aaron Boone clown Yankees manager for complaining to umps

Phillies fans who angered Aaron Boone clown Yankees manager for complaining to umps

Pandemic, shmandemic: Philadelphia sports fans are a different breed.

After the Phillies topped the red-hot Yankees on Thursday night, the prevailing storyline wasn't J.T. Realmuto's continued production, or Zach Eflin's strong outing. 

Everyone was talking about Yankees manager Aaron Boone whining about some Phillies fans making a little noise at the ballpark.

Boone stopped play on Thursday to complain about a group of Phillies fans, who call themselves 'The Phandemic Krew', for blowing airhorns when Yankees players were at the plate.

Yes, seriously:

Hmm. Not exactly that tough New York mindset, eh?

Boone complained after the game about the "timing element" of the fans' distractions, because apparently his highly-trained athletes aren't locked in enough to batter the Phillies' bullpen if a few guys from South Jersey make a little noise. 

Unsurprisingly, Phillies fans weren't going to let Boone's antics go unnoticed.

On Friday morning, two members of The Phandemic Krew jumped on 97.5 The Fanatic to talk with Marc Farzetta about getting under Boone's skin, and they went absolutely in on the Yanks' manager.

Here's Oscar, who hails from Camden County, putting it perfectly:

OSCAR: When I was doing it, we were kinda laughing about it, like we did it when Stanton was batting. And they had the TVs out there for us, they put the TVs out there for us, and I was like, 'Yo, I think Boone's complaining about us.' And someone was like, 'They just tweeted about us, complaining about us.' So right away we were like, 'Yo, Boone!' 

FARZETTA: Was it a point of pride when you realized you're a Philadelpha fan, who's not allowed to be in the stadium, and you were still having an impact and getting in the manager's head?

OSCAR: That's definitely a point of pride. I mean, you're talking about Boone, last year they were 'savages', and now they're crying about airhorns. It's definitely some pride, and listen, there's no stopping us. We're still going to be out here for the rest of the season.

That's perfect. Just perfect.

If you missed the reference: a viral hot-mic clip of Boone arguing with umps heard him using some very interesting language to describe his players last season.

Now he's mad about a few horns? You've gotta keep that same energy, Boone!

To top it all off, Phillies fan Taylor Valdez lobbed this idea to the Phandemic Krew, just a little icing on the cake:

Don't be surprised if those shirts start popping up in the Philadelphia area.

As the fans noted, members of the Phandemic Krew were socially distant, they wore masks, and they had hand sanitizer aplenty. They even put a mask on the Phillie Phanatic in their gigantic Phandemic Krew sign. They were taking the COVID-19 pandemic just as seriously as they take Phillies baseball.

The message is clear: don't mess with Philly fans.

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Hector Neris picks up biggest outs of young season in confidence-builder for Phillies bullpen

Hector Neris picks up biggest outs of young season in confidence-builder for Phillies bullpen

As Phillies manager Joe Girardi maneuvered his way through the middle and late innings with a beleaguered bullpen in a close game Thursday night, one thought weighed uncomfortably on his mind.

Girardi's counterpart, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone, had decided this was the night to rest one of the most dangerous hitters on the planet. But just because Aaron Judge was out of the starting lineup didn't mean he and his lethal power bat wouldn't be a factor in the game.

Sure enough, with the Phillies desperately clinging to a one-run lead with two outs in the eighth inning and a man on third base, the hulking Judge grabbed his bat and strode toward the plate.

Girardi responded by replacing lefty reliever Jose Alvarez with right-handed closer Hector Neris.

Phillies fans beyond the centerfield gate and those watching on television held their breath.

Five pitches later, they could exhale as Neris got Judge to swing over a splitter for strike three. It was the biggest out of the young season — at least for an inning. Neris allowed a pair of two-out hits in the ninth before retiring Luke Voit on a ball to the warning track to complete a 5-4 victory over the Yankees.

The win gave the Phils a split of the four-game series with one of baseball's most powerful teams.

J.T. Realmuto and Phil Gosselin stood out with the bats and Zach Eflin pitched well in his season debut as the Phillies improved their record to 3-4. 

But the star of the game was an unlikely unit, a bullpen that had been scorched for 17 earned runs in 16⅔ innings in the early part of the season.

The 'pen was handed a 5-2 lead in the fifth inning and got 15 outs to preserve a one-run victory. Nick Pivetta allowed a two-run homer in the seventh for the bullpen's only blemish. But Pivetta did get six of the 15 outs.

Neris got four huge outs, including the strikeout of Judge, who leads the majors with seven homers and 17 RBIs in his first 12 games.

Yes, Girardi thought about having Neris walk Judge and go after Gio Urshela. But he didn't think about it for too long.

"You know, Aaron Judge, as great a hitter as he is, if you make your pitches you have a chance," Girardi said. "I thought Hector and J.T. had a great plan and they executed it."

Realmuto, the Phillies catcher, sensed that Judge would be looking for a first-pitch splitter because Neris is known for that pitch and threw it 66 percent of the time to lead off an at-bat last season. So Realmuto called for two straight fastballs then three straight splitters and it got the job done.

"That's a dangerous at-bat for any pitcher because if you make a mistake he can hit it out of the ballpark anywhere," Girardi said. "Hector was fantastic. 

"When you look at what our bullpen did tonight, they gave us five strong innings against arguably the best lineup in baseball. Just an outstanding job."

Girardi admitted that his heart may have skipped a beat when Voit launched his ball to center in the last at-bat of the game. Off the bat, it looked like it had a chance to be a three-run homer and more misery for the bullpen.

"You worry because you know how strong these guys are and how far they hit the ball," Girardi said. "But you feel a little bit better when you see your centerfielder nestle under it."

The bullpen needed a little confidence-builder after a rough start to the season. But there's not much time to savor the performance. The Braves arrive Friday night for a four-game series.

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