The only thing more common for the 2018 Phillies than a rain delay is a dominant start from Aaron Nola.
On Saturday, they got both. Two more rain delays (that mercilessly lasted only 33 minutes) and another master's class from Nola.
If you're searching for reasons how or why the Phillies are in first place on Memorial Day Weekend, Nola tops the list.
The Phillies' ace pitched another gem in Saturday's 2-1 win over the Blue Jays, holding them hitless until there were two outs in the seventh inning (see first take). Entering the seventh, Toronto hadn't hit a ball to the outfield or farther than 150 feet.
"He just continues to be creative," Gabe Kapler said. "He continues to refine his arsenal. His curveball just seems to keep getting better. He knows how to mix his pitches. He was tremendous."
The big spot in the game came with two outs, two on and Russell Martin at the plate in the seventh. Martin, hitting just .154, worked a tough AB and singled between third and short to tie the game. It made Kapler's decision a heck of a lot easier because Nola was at a career-high 113 pitches and no manager wants to have to make the call whether to let his guy chase the no-no or remove him for big-picture, health reasons.
"When I went out there to talk to him, I just wanted to make sure that he was OK," Kapler said. "His eyes looked great. I thought he executed in that at-bat very well. Really wanted to give him a chance to get through that inning. He earned it. He was special today."
The Phillies, as a team, have been special more often than not this season. They’re 29-20, one game off of their start in 2011. Pretty incredible when you consider all the differences between this team and that team in terms of experience, payroll and expectations.
The Braves have lost two in a row in Boston, so when the Phillies take the field at 1:35 p.m. Sunday behind Nick Pivetta, they'll do so as a team alone in first place. A team that has allowed fewer runs than every National League club except the Cubs.
"It's early, but I think it's well-earned, you know," said Nick Williams, who was Mr. Clutch again with another pinch-hit homer, his MLB-leading third. "We've got a great group of guys. Young guys, hungry. These guys love winning. It's addicting."
We've reached checkpoint territory — 50 games in, Memorial Day Weekend, about one-third of the way into the season. Being in first place on May 26 means nothing other than you've played well for seven weeks. But next time someone says "Nobody's watching the standings yet," Kapler says don't buy it.
"I think it means a lot to the team and I think it means a lot to the clubhouse," the manager said. "Don’t let anyone tell you they aren’t paying attention to the standings in May. I don’t think that’s true of any baseball man that I’ve been around or any baseball fan that I’ve been around. You pay attention, you care and it means something. It’s special. Being in first place at any point is special and now we’re in late-May and early-June. That feels really good."
As for Nola, he's now pitched the Phillies to a 4-1 record when he starts after a loss. That's exactly what you want out of your ace.
You also want him to dominate at home, which Nola has. To that point, so has Jake Arrieta. Those two combined have made 11 starts at home and are 8-0 with a 1.47 ERA and .197 opponents' batting average.
Even the biggest optimist wouldn't have drawn that up.
"Those guys are pitching their butts off and it helps us want to help those guys back," Williams said.
"Nola's been amazing every single time, man. You can see greatness every time he's on."