Aaron Nola was up in the clubhouse riding an exercise bike and watching on television as the Colorado Rockies mounted a charge in the ninth inning.
One run in. A second run in. Now a third.
Suddenly it’s a one-run game and Nola’s masterpiece is about to unravel.
“I mean, kind of,” Nola said. “How can you not get nervous right there? But we pulled it out.”
The Phillies survived a rocky performance by reliever Luis Garcia in the ninth inning to score a 5-4 win over the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night (see first take). The game should not have been that close. The Phils led 5-1 entering the inning. Garcia was tagged for four straight hits and three runs before rightfielder Aaron Altherr (with a game-saving catch) and Seranthony Dominguez (with a game-ending strikeout of two-time National League RBI king Nolan Arenado) saved his bacon and locked down the one-run victory.
The Phils have won two in a row for the first time since May 16-17.
“That is a long time,” Nola said. “But it's good to get back on the winning train.”
The Phillies were out-hit by a margin of 11-4 in this game, but they managed to win because Nola pitched well and Scott Kingery drove in four runs with a three-run homer in the first inning and a sacrifice fly. Jesmuel Valentin had a pinch-hit, RBI single in the eighth and the run proved huge as the win turned out to be more difficult than it should have been.
Colorado starter Jon Gray struck out 10, but he walked four and paid for them. He walked two in the first inning, setting up Kingery’s three-run homer, his first long ball in two months. Kingery hit a 1-2 fastball that came in at 97 mph.
“I’m just trying to put the bat on the ball and thankfully he threw me something I could handle,” said Kingery, who has chased a ton of breaking balls out of the zone in similar situations.
Nola also stuck out 10 as he improved to 8-2 with a 2.27 ERA in 14 starts. That’s All-Star Game material.
Since June 22, 2017, Nola is 14-3 with a 2.03 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and 148 strikeouts in 18 home starts. The Rockies love to hit fastballs. Nola combated that with 15 swinging strikes, nine on curveballs.
“He mixed his pitches beautifully,” manager Gabe Kapler said.
Nola got in a couple of jams, but his pulse never quickened and he navigated them. He left with two outs in the seventh and a 4-0 lead.
“It's an intangible very few pitchers have,” Kapler said of Nola’s no-panic demeanor. “It's confidence and it's bravado.”
Kapler wanted to stay away from his favorite bullpen weapon, Dominguez, especially after the rookie right-hander had thrown 41 pitches on Sunday. But Dominguez had to come in and clean up Garcia’s mess. Altherr helped with a sensational grab on a Charlie Blackmon liner to right that would have brought home at least a run.
“Basically what we look at is who is most likely to get a ground ball there,” said Kapler, explaining his decision to open the ninth with Garcia. "Louie throws 99 miles an hour with a slider, so he matches up pretty well against a lot of people. Because he hasn't a lot of success in recent days doesn't mean we're going to go away from him. We have to maintain faith and confidence in our guys with big electric stuff and that's basically what we've done.”
Dominguez threw 13 pitches on a night Kapler was hoping not to use him. The Phillies want to be careful with him so he might not be available on Wednesday night when the team tries to win three in a row for the first time in a month.