Phillies

All-Star Aaron Nola does literally everything in Phillies' win over Mets

All-Star Aaron Nola does literally everything in Phillies' win over Mets

Updated: 11:30 p.m.

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NEW YORK — After a frustrating extra-inning loss in Game 1 of their doubleheader, the Phillies needed shutdown innings and timely hitting in Game 2 against the Mets.

All-Star Aaron Nola took it upon himself to provide both.

Nola was completely locked in on the mound, and his fifth-inning trip to the plate was the game's decisive at-bat. After Corey Oswalt intentionally walked Maikel Franco to load the bases, Nola doubled on the first pitch he saw to clear the bases.

As sharp as Nola looked from the first pitch he threw, you got the sense that was all the offense the Phillies would need. It was, with the Phils winning, 3-1.

Here's how much of a groove Nola was in. He faced 23 batters tonight and threw two strikes among the first three pitches to 19 of them ... and one of the only hitters he didn't get ahead of 0-2 or 1-2 made a first-pitch out.

"It's really easy [to play behind him]," Rhys Hoskins said. "When I was on the DL, I got to stand in on a couple of his bullpens. Obviously, I knew he was good before but just to watch the perfection that happened in his bullpens ... there's a lot more appreciation for what he does every time he steps on the mound. Every spot was hit, everything was sharp, there were no misses in the middle of the plate. That's why he's an All-Star. It's been fun to watch and I'm really glad he's on our team.

"He's been really, really good from Day 1 of his career. For him to finally get the recognition from across the league and maybe nationally that he deserves, it was cool to see. I'm happy for him as a teammate, I'm happy for him as a friend, nobody more deserving. The guy works his tail off every single day, he's got a routine like nobody I've ever seen."

From the first through seventh innings, Nola retired 18 consecutive hitters. After walking Michael Conforto with two outs in the seventh to break the streak, Nola struck out his 10th and final batter.

In all, Nola allowed one hit and one walk over seven shutout innings with 10 Ks. He improves to 12-2 with a 2.27 ERA, moving ahead of Max Scherzer (2.33).

It was Nola's double, though, that elicited the biggest reaction from the Phillies' dugout. Not just the biggest reaction of the game. The biggest reaction all season, according to Gabe Kapler.

"That was the moment in the dugout when I heard the loudest celebration of the year," the manager said. "His teammates were so happy for him. It was pretty special."

The Phillies and idle Braves are both 50-39. Barring any postponements this week, the Phils will enter the All-Star break with one more game played than the Braves, who are off again Thursday.

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For Chase Utley and Cole Hamels, memories of Roy Halladay's perfecto are fresh and cherished

For Chase Utley and Cole Hamels, memories of Roy Halladay's perfecto are fresh and cherished

Chase Utley can still feel the nerves pulsating through his body like an electrical current.

Cole Hamels can still hit the play button in his mind and recite the conversations he had.

A decade later, their memories of Roy Halladay’s perfect game are still fresh.

“It was the fifth or sixth inning,” Utley recalled. “I was like, ‘Wait a second, they don’t have any hits.’ That’s when I realized it could possibly happen.”

It did happen.

Ten years ago this week, on May 29, 2010, Roy Halladay went 27-up, 27-down against the Florida Marlins on a steamy night in South Florida. The temptation is to say that the perfect game was Halladay’s grand introduction as a Phillie because, after all, it came in just his 11th start with the club. But, truth be told, the big right-hander had announced his arrival with authority even before that start. He had pitched two shutouts on his way to four complete games in his first 10 starts with the club and his brief but brilliant legend as a Phillie was already growing.

Start No. 11 stood apart from all the rest — at least until Halladay pitched a playoff no-hitter against Cincinnati later that season — because perfection so seldom happens in a sport where failing seven out of 10 times is an enviable reality. Halladay’s perfect game was just the 20th in Major League history at the time and memories of it have become more poignant, more cherished in the 2½ years since his death in a small plane crash in November 2017.

Utley played second base behind Halladay that night in Miami. And after he looked up at the scoreboard and realized what was happening — after his OMG moment — his nerves started to crackle. Because though perfect games ultimately go on a pitcher’s record, they are a team accomplishment, as well. One blemish on defense can unravel the whole thing.

“One-hundred percent,” said Utley, describing the flow of anxiety he felt playing defense late in that game. “We had only been around Roy for a few months, but we’d seen what he was all about firsthand. You want a guy like that to succeed. 

“You tried not to put any extra pressure on yourself, but you were definitely more engaged and tuned in. Having no fear is important. I remember thinking I wanted the ball hit to me. I remember anticipating it coming my way and attacking it like I normally would.”

With the exception of catcher Carlos Ruiz, Hamels might have had the best seat in the house for Halladay’s tour de force.

Hamels had pitched two nights earlier in New York. When Halladay took the mound that Saturday night in Miami, Hamels took a seat alongside Jamie Moyer, the next day’s starting pitcher, in a camera well at the home plate end of the visiting dugout.

For two hours and 13 minutes, that camera well became an observation deck as Hamels and Moyer watched and admired Doc Halladay perform surgery. As Halladay started to rack up quick outs, the veteran Moyer, a walking textbook of pitching who had been a mentor to the younger Hamels, got more and more excited about the lesson that was unfolding out on the mound.

“This is why you keep notes,” Moyer told Hamels. “This is why you study hitters. This is why you do it — because you might have the opportunity to do something like this someday. This is the reward you can have.”

Hamels can still hear the conversation.

“That game made me appreciate what Jamie had been telling me for a few years, that you really had to have a game plan, about executing that game plan and making sure you’re focused and never get off it,” Hamels said. “For years he’d been telling me to develop that notebook and keep track of all that information.”

Halladay needed just 115 pitches to finish his clinic against the Marlins. He struck out 11.

It takes a confluence of positive factors for a pitcher to throw a perfect game. Obviously, the maestro needs to be on top of his game. The defense needs to hit all the right notes. And it sure helps if the umpire has a wide strike zone.

Mike DiMuro was the home plate umpire that night in Miami. He had the kind of strike zone that perfect games dream of. Marlins leadoff man Chris Coghlan, rung up on a 3-2 pitch to open the bottom of the first inning, testified to that during his time as a player in Phillies camp in February 2017.

“Big strike zone that night,” Coghlan told us nearly seven years after Halladay’s perfecto. “Go back and look at it. I was leading off, 3-2, ball off the plate, strike three. I still get chapped about it. Go look at it. It could have been totally different.”

As our conversation with Coghlan went on, it became clear that he really wasn’t angry about the strike zone that night. It was more the competitor in him talking.

If anyone would understand that, it would have been Halladay, a competitor’s competitor.

“Oh, everybody loves (a perfect game) except for the guys it’s happening against,” Coghlan said. “I had some buddies at the game and afterward they were like, ‘Bro, that was awesome. I can’t believe I saw that. I’m saving this ticket.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re in the family room, bro, and you’re ticking me off. We just got embarrassed. You can find your own ride home. I’m not giving you a ride.’ 

“I joke about the zone that night. But I would never diminish anything that man did. To pitch a perfect game, everything has to go perfect and it did for him that night. He was a legend.”

The defense came through for Halladay late in the game that night 10 years ago. Juan Castro made two standout plays at third base, one in which he went to his left, spun and fired to first to end the game. Castro, usually a reserve, was at third that night because Greg Dobbs made a couple of errors in Halladay’s previous start, a loss against Boston. Manager Charlie Manuel opted for a glove at third in Halladay’s next start and the move proved huge.

That final out is Utley’s most vivid memory from the night.

“Juan made a great play, spun around — out recorded,” Utley said. “The excitement we as teammates had for what Roy had accomplished was incredible. He had his game face on all night. After a lot of stare downs, it was good to see that great big smile after the last out.

“We had a small part in it, but he’s the guy who got it done. I remember the way he credited Chooch after the game. Roy was such a great teammate, always deflecting attention from himself. They don’t make ‘em like that very often.”

A couple of months after his perfect game, Halladay recognized the team nature of his accomplishment by presenting all of his teammates and Phillies support staff with Swiss wristwatches — 67 of them in all — inscribed with the words “We did it together. Thanks – Roy Halladay.” The watches cost about $2,800 apiece. Utley cherishes the memento and says he will keep it forever even if he doesn’t wear it often.

“I don’t want to muck it up,” he joked.

Memories of the heart can’t be mucked up.

And that night in Miami a decade ago will always hold a special place in a lot of hearts.

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Jeff Francoeur: 'Shame on' MLB owners and players if they don't figure this out

Jeff Francoeur: 'Shame on' MLB owners and players if they don't figure this out

When Jeff Francoeur gazes at his crystal ball, he sees baseball.

This summer.

"I think we're going to end up with baseball being played," the former Phillie and 12-year big-leaguer said. "We need baseball."

Francoeur, now a member of the Atlanta Braves television broadcast team, was a guest on our Phillies Talk podcast Wednesday, a day after baseball owners proposed a salary structure for a shortened 2020 season that was quickly panned by the players.

"My crystal ball says the owners and players will figure this out in the next seven to 10 days," Francoeur said. "There might be a couple shots thrown in the media, but you know what? Baseball's always withstood that. If they open up on July 4, families sitting around with a beer and barbecue watching a baseball game, I think we'll look back and say, 'We did a pretty damn good job with this.'"

The sporting world shut down in mid-March as the coronavirus health crisis surged. Now, leagues are plotting a course to return. Major League Baseball would like to come back in July with an 82-game schedule. For health reasons, fans will not be permitted in ballparks — at least for a while — and players will have to do their best to observe rules of social distancing and other sanitary practices, such as no spitting.

Everybody seems OK with all of this.

Except for one thing.

The money.

Owners have already suffered revenue losses and playing games in empty stadiums will equal more loss. They have proposed sliding-scale salary cuts that could have the game's most highly paid marquee stars making about one-fifth of their 2020 salaries. To wit, Bryce Harper, with an average annual salary just under $25.4 million, would make about $6.5 million.

Management's proposal is viewed by most as a starting point in negotiations that must happen quickly because teams would need to be in "spring training" camps by mid-June to pull off an early July return. 

Francoeur, who retired after the 2016 season, was asked point-blank if he believed either side had "the guts" to call off the season.

"I don't," he said. "I don't. Because I know, as a player, I would be fighting my tail off to tell (union boss) Tony Clark to tell the players, 'We've got to figure something out.' I think the thing that stinks now is (the instant reaction of) social media. If you could put the owners and the players together in a room for three days and say, 'figure it out,' without everybody else knowing one thing or another. That's the worst part, that this is going to play out in the media. I just tell people, 'Look, it's going to run its course.' Eventually, in the next week, you're going to see them come to an agreement and I do believe that in the middle of June, teams are going to be fired back up for spring training.

"As a former player, I'll always be a player, a union guy. Those are my guys, my buddies. But I'll tell you this: There's going to have to be concessions on both sides. Baseball has to figure it out. And if it doesn't, I'll be the first one to say it, shame on them, shame on the owners and shame on the players if they don't figure this out."

Francoeur offered a potential solution.

"I'm not a huge fan of the sliding scale," he said. "I think the best way to do it is deferments. In two or three years, make up the money on the back end for your high-profile, high-paid guys. They don't need the money right now. But I also understand you're asking some of these guys to basically take an 80 percent pay cut. 

"It's tough because you're talking about billionaires talking to millionaires with 30 to 35 million people unemployed. They don't want to hear it and I think we all get that. The whole health protocol, they're going to figure that out. But if there's no baseball because of the financial aspect, if they don't come to an agreement, I'll tell you what, that's going to be sad when all these other sports get playing. Baseball has a chance to be the focal point this summer. I said from Day 1, could you imagine an opening day on July 4? On the biggest independence holiday here, to not have baseball would be a shame.

"If this is green-lighted to go from a health standpoint and you can't get out there because of finances, then shame on baseball."

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