ST. LOUIS — This was a first. And the Phillies hope it happens many more times.
Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins homered in the same game and Aaron Nola delivered his best start of the season as the Phillies rolled over the St. Louis Cardinals, 11-1, at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night (see observations).
Much of St. Louis’ attention was focused on the Game 7 Stanley Cup playoff battle between the Blues and Dallas Stars just down the street from the ballpark. It’s possible that even the Cardinals players were a little distracted. The Cards had a bad second inning. They made two errors in the inning and the Phillies pounced on them for six unearned runs.
That was all Nola needed.
“Up 6-0, you’ve got to stay dialed in,” the right-hander said. “You can’t let off the gas because anything can happen. I’ve been on both sides of it. It’s a mindset. You have to stay dialed in.”
Nola did just that. He allowed only one hit through five innings and three through his six innings of one-run ball. He has held the opposition to just a run in each of this last three starts. In other words, after a rocky start, he’s Aaron Nola again. The fastball command has improved. The changeup is sharper. Ditto for the curveball. Of the 101 pitches he threw, 65 were curveballs and changeups. He got 11 swings and misses on those two pitches.
“This was definitely the best I’ve felt all year with all my pitches,” he said. “I felt like I was throwing quality pitches and getting ahead more.”
While the Phillies’ top starting pitcher enjoyed a big night, so too did two of the club’s most important hitters.
Harper entered the game hitting just .226 overall and .182 in his previous 18 games. He had two hits, a walk and scored two runs on the night. One of his hits was the biggest of the game, a grand slam that highlighted the second inning.
“I think the last two weeks, whatever it is, I was missing pitches over the plate, swinging at balls out of the zone,” Harper said. “Our lineup did a good job tonight. It was nice to put something up early for Nola.”
Harper has sloughed off any suggestions that his slow start has stemmed from him pressing or trying to do too much after signing a mega $330 million contract with the Phils in March.
Kapler sensed a difference in Harper’s swings in this game.
“Bryce looked a little more relaxed,” Kapler said. “His bat flew through the zone. He looked more at ease, looked like he was letting it go.”
Hoskins went 4 for 5 with a homer and a double to raise his season average to .302. He is 14 for 34 (.412) with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last 10 games. He leads the club with 11 homers.
Hoskins is sporting a .425 on-base percentage and a 1.076 OPS.
“He’s had a lot of loud and important contact for us,” Kapler said.
The Phils are 20-15, tops in the NL East. They will look to win the series behind Jerad Eickhoff on Wednesday afternoon.
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