Phillies 2, Rockies 1: Masterful Aaron Nola ties career high with 12 strikeouts

Phillies 2, Rockies 1: Masterful Aaron Nola ties career high with 12 strikeouts


About three hours before first pitch, manager Gabe Kapler said there is always a feeling within the clubhouse whenever it's Aaron Nola's turn in the rotation.

They call it "Nola Day."

Consider Saturday "Nola and Harper Day."

The right-handed ace struck out 12 over six innings, while Bryce Harper clubbed a no-doubt-about-it home run as the Phillies beat the Rockies, 2-1, on a picturesque afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies are 26-19, first in the National League East, and 17-10 at home.

The Rockies dropped to 20-24 after losing the first two games of this three-game set.

The keys

 • A Rockies lineup scoring over five runs per game was quieted by Nola, who looked like the 2018 version of Nola, when the righty finished third in NL Cy Young voting.

• The Phillies' bullpen, which entered with the NL's third-best ERA (3.88), was massive. Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez got the Phillies out of trouble in the seventh inning. Hector Neris notched a two-inning save.

Phillies relievers have thrown six scoreless innings over the last two games, both one-run wins.

• Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela had not seen much of this Phillies lineup, but he battled through five innings. The Phillies, who came in seeing 4.04 pitches per plate appearance, most in the National League, forced Senzatela to throw 101 pitches and four walks.

Nola, have mercy

Nola's first inning was a clear-cut indicator Saturday could be a special start. He painted the corners and struck out the side, all looking, on 13 pitches. In his previous start, he labored through a career-high 38-pitch first inning.

On Saturday, Nola had it all working. His pitches were darting and dipping as everything moved to keep Colorado guessing. His 12 punchouts tied his career high. He scattered eight hits and walked just one over 106 pitches.

This effort came on the heels of Nola matching his shortest outing of the season with three innings in a no-decision against the Brewers.

On Saturday, he was relieved in the seventh with no outs following a leadoff triple and run-scoring double as the Rockies trimmed the Phillies' lead to 2-1. Nola was not yet at 100 pitches and working against the bottom of the order heading into the frame, so Kapler justifiably had no problem sending him back out there for the seventh.

Nola improved to 3-0 with 38 strikeouts and four walks in four career starts against Colorado, which has had a top-10 offense in each of the past five seasons.

Through his first 10 starts last season, Nola was 6-2 with a 2.37 ERA, 57 strikeouts and 14 walks.

This season, he's 4-0 with a 4.47 ERA, 60 strikeouts and 21 walks. He's rounding into form.

Has it landed yet?

 As the Phillies took the field before first pitch, Harper took his typical bow in salute to the fans in the right-field seats.

After seeing one pitch in the bottom of the first inning, he could have easily taken another bow. He put the Phillies ahead, 1-0, with a mammoth home run to a spot baseballs don't often land at Citizens Bank Park (see story).

Harper went 2 for 3 with his big homer, a double and a walk. He has hit safely in four straight games after going 10 for 70 (.143) over his previous 21 games.

Love for the glove

The Phillies had not played cleanly in the field over the previous three games, committing five errors and some lapses in decision-making.

They were sound Saturday. Rhys Hoskins made a sliding catch in foul territory to retire Nolan Arenado during the fourth inning. Maikel Franco made a nice play ranging to his left and throwing out pitcher Senzatela in the fifth inning. He also cut down the potential game-tying run at the plate in the seventh with a 5-2 tag out.

The Phillies are 21-5 when they don't make an error.

At the dish

The Phillies went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left nine on base. They registered six hits and five walks

Daniel Murphy, the former Mets and Nationals infielder now with the Rockies, entered 10 for 29 (.345) with three doubles, two homers and a triple lifetime against Nola. He went 0 for 2 with two strikeouts and a walk Saturday vs. Nola.

Can't beat it

A sold-out crowd got a good one. It was 78 degrees with a blue sky at first pitch. Nola, Harper and the bullpen put the cherry on top.

Up next

The Phillies will go for the three-game sweep Sunday before opening a seven-game road trip against the Cubs (four-game series) and Brewers (three-game series), the two-best teams in the NL Central.

Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff (2-2, 2.65) takes the ball Sunday (1:05 p.m./NBCSP) for the Phillies and will oppose Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland (2-5, 5.68).

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Potentially awkward scenes we could see during 2020 MLB season

Potentially awkward scenes we could see during 2020 MLB season

Baseball fans are hoping for the best. 

Everyone that loves the sport is hopeful that the owners and players can iron out their financial differences and come to an agreement that clears the way for a 2020 season. In the meantime, we are left to wonder what a season played in the midst of a pandemic might look like. 

Beyond there being no fans in the ballparks when the season starts, players would also keep their distance from one another, both on and off the field. 

A potentially awkward scene comes to mind. Say the home team wins in walk-off fashion. What would the celebration look like? We're used to seeing the entire team stream out of the dugout and charge whoever delivered the winning hit, mobbing him somewhere along the basepaths and ripping his jersey off.

Or in the case of a walk-off home run, everyone waiting at home plate to dump the Gatorade bucket on the hero and jump around in unison.

We saw Phillies star Bryce Harper in the middle of several such celebrations last season, most notably after his walk-off grand slam against the Cubs. What would that look like in 2020? Harper sprinting around the bases, charging towards home plate where ... no one is waiting for him. Everyone gives him a thumbs-up from a distance and goes their separate ways? It's a weird scenario to think about. But it will likely play out quite a bit should there be a season. 

Former Phillies outfielder Jeff Francoeur was a guest on the Phillies Talk podcast this week and said that if he were still playing, he'd probably still hug a teammate after a walk-off and just pay the fine.  

Back to the possibility of playing in empty ballparks without fans. At first thought, that doesn't seem like too big of a deal for the players. Baseball is baseball, it's still the same game with or without fans. But not having the energy and electricity that the fans provide could have a big impact on certain players, particularly the Phillies' best player. Francoeur, for example, explained how players sometimes really use the fans' energy to get up for day-games when the fatigue of the season mounts.

No one feeds off the fans more than Harper. He loves playing to the crowd at Citizens Bank Park — pumping up the fans sitting behind him in right field and gesturing to the crowd behind the dugout after a big home run. Harper fires up the fans, and vice versa. 

Harper is equally effective in feeding off negative energy on the road. He's probably been booed in opposing ballparks more than any player in baseball and he's been dealing with it since his teenage years. He was heckled throughout a game in San Francisco last season, with one fan yelling 'overrated' each time Harper stepped into the batter's box (a chant Harper hears in most road cities). He channeled that negativity into a pair of monster home runs and made sure to let the fans know about it afterward.

His first game back in Washington last season is another great example. Nationals fans were all over Harper the entire night. He responded by going 3-for-5 with two doubles and a two-run home run into the upper deck.  

Harper is a showman. He relishes his roles of fan-favorite at home and villain on the road. Harper will still be effective playing in an empty ballpark. But it's fair to wonder if the lack of energy could have an adverse impact on him.  

It's one of countless unknowns as we brace for what promises to be a baseball season unlike any we've seen. Of course, there is still plenty of work to be done to ensure there will be a season. The clock is ticking. 

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Revelations and takeaways from the Roy Halladay E60 documentary

Revelations and takeaways from the Roy Halladay E60 documentary

There was so much of note in Friday's powerful hourlong E60 documentary of the life and death of Roy Halladay. Heartbreaking recollections from his widow, Brandy, troubling details of his addiction to prescription opioids, and the valuable lesson that hopefully can come from such a painful tragedy.

"I just wanted him to slow down," Brandy said.

"Roy had none," she said of the balance in his life at points.

"He didn't feel he had the luxury of making mistakes, he was truly tormented."

How Halladay's opioid addiction began

Halladay popped his back during the 2011 season and pitched through it. He pitched through pain the night the Phillies' playoff hopes ended in a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS after a franchise-record 102 regular-season wins.

Brandy told a story of Roy experiencing such back pain that he once fell down sneezing around that time.

Halladay began taking prescription opioids in the spring of 2012, obtaining them by paying cash to a doctor in Florida who was recommended to him by a Phillies teammate.

"He was continuing to hurt himself, and the more he hurt himself, the more dependent he would be on medication," Brandy said. "He was breaking his back. He actually shrunk three inches from compression in his spine. That's insane."

Former teammate and pupil Kyle Kendrick, who looked up to Halladay as a role model and mentor, noticed that something wasn't right. 

"At his locker, I was right next to him. You'd try to talk to him and you'd feel like he wasn't there," Kendrick said. "As a friend, I felt like I should say something. I felt like he might need help. A teammate and I said something to someone who worked for the team."

The teammate confronted Halladay about his drug use during the 2013 season but nothing changed.

Fear of public scrutiny

Halladay's body became dependent on the medications to function. All the while, he privately dealt with the fear of others finding out. He was tormented by the potential public scrutiny.

"Everybody should be able to ask for help and they shouldn't be looked down on and judged for that," Brandy said several times throughout the documentary. If there is one lesson to be learned from this tragedy, it is that.

Roy Halladay went to rehab for his painkiller addiction during the 2013 season, his final year in the majors. Many Phillies fans will remember the stress-filled, sweat-soaked 13 starts Halladay made that final year. At times, that was a reaction to the medication in his system.

He left rehab early, Brandy said, because he had been recognized and someone had snuck a phone into the facility. Roy was nervous about word of his stint in rehab leaking out.

The struggle to find a purpose

After retirement, in the years before Halladay recaptured some of his joy and passion by coaching his sons' baseball teams, Roy "stopped taking care of himself, inside and out," according to Brandy. His weight rose to over 300 pounds at one point in retirement, then down to 205 at another.

He reentered rehab in January 2015 for the painkiller addiction and was there three months. When he returned home, he began seeing a psychiatrist and was formally diagnosed with ADD, depression and anxiety. 

In retirement, Halladay struggled to find a purpose. 

"He was lost, he didn't know what to do with himself," Brandy said. "Flying was therapeutic."

Doc's days in the air

The circumstances of Halladay's death were documented in a 2018 toxicology report and in a report from the National Transportation Safety Board last month. He had Zolpidem, amphetamine and morphine in his system at the time he crashed his Icon A5 plane into the Gulf of Mexico. According to the NTSB report, Halladay was doing extreme acrobatics when he lost control.

Halladay received his pilot's license in 2013. He had spent much time in the air with his father, Roy II, a pilot, from a young age, and had accrued more than 700 flying hours himself before the crash.

"He was an excellent pilot," Roy II said of his son. "Mechanically, his skills were very good. He kept working for additional ratings."

Yet still, Brandy didn't feel it was totally safe. 

"He was trying to fill this void by buying boats and planes and cars and shoes," she said. "Roy was an adrenaline guy, he was always looking for that rush."

When Roy got his Icon A5, a plane that made him feel like he was flying a fighter jet, "he was so excited, he couldn't control himself," Brandy said.

"My concern was after he got the (Icon A5), he kept talking about how sporty it was, how much of a sports car it was," his father said. "I said be careful with it."

The tragedy

Halladay died 35 days after getting the Icon A5. According to the NTSB report, he frequently flew at low altitudes in shallow water and flew underneath a bridge in Tampa with Brandy on board 12 days before the fatal crash.

On the day of the crash, he and Brandy were supposed to see one of their sons' band perform at a school concert. Roy told Brandy he'd return the Icon A5 to the airport and meet her there. He texted her while she was driving, "I'm so sorry, I should have just gone with you, another wasted day." Instead of flying north to the airport, he had flown west to the Gulf of Mexico where the crash occurred.

"I had so much more in the future I wanted for us and it was hard to know that it was just done," Brandy Halladay said.

"I know in my heart it was an accident. I want to make sure that people understand that he was just a man. Perfect, I hate that word, perfect. I just want him to be Roy. I hope somebody hears our story and says, 'Wow, I'm going to ask for help.'"

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