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Aaron Nola delivers solid outing in Phillies NLDS Game 3 win

PHILADELPHIA — The Philly faithful were on their feet and cheering before Phillies manager Rob Thomson hit the foul line on his way to the mound. They continued to cheer as Aaron Nola, career Phillie who was a National League Cy Young Award nominee in 2018 at the age of 25, but hasn’t always been so warmly welcomed at this stadium , looked at the grass as he walked away. the seventh inning of a 9-1 win over the Braves in Friday’s Game 3 that pushed the Phils on the cusp of their first NL Division series victory in a dozen years.

If Nola heard the cheers at Citizens Bank Park, he did little to acknowledge them.

“It’s vintage Nola, man,” said longtime teammate Zach Eflin. “I think maybe I saw a little wave at the end.”

“He doesn’t want recognition,” starting teammate Zack Wheeler said. “He’s just doing his thing.”

For years, some people have wondered if Nola would become a big game pitcher, suggested by his pedigree as the 7th overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft that made it to the Majors 13 months later. In 2018, he surpassed 200 innings and 200 strikeouts, made the NL All-Star team, and finished third in voting for the NL Cy Young Award.

Since then, Nola has been good, but not as good. In 2021, Nola’s ERA reached 4.63. The batters have fared better against him in September and October of his career (.721 OPS against) than any other month.

Now that he’s 29 and kicking off the playoffs for the first time, all questions about Nola are answered.

Consider Nola’s recent work:

• Had a 2.36 ERA and 45 strikeouts in six regular season starts in September and October as the Phillies pushed for the playoffs, holding opponents to a .191/.239/.270 slant line.

• With a shot at a playoff berth on Oct. 3 in Houston, he held the high-powered Astros scoreless on two hits in 6 2/3 innings, no walks and nine strikeouts.

• With a chance to pitch the Phillies in the NLDS, he went 6 2/3 more scoreless innings against the Cardinals in Game 2 of the best-of-three NL Wild Card Series in his first career playoff start.

“He’s so calm,” Philadelphia wide receiver JT Realmuto said. “It’s his first playoff run, but watching him pitch it looks like he’s been doing it his entire career. He never gets too high or too low, he just stays the course. You associate that with what he has and the command he has – that’s a recipe for success.

On Friday, Nola found success again.

The right-hander pitched over six innings and allowed an unearned run on five hits. He walked two batters and struck out six. The lone run came after first baseman Rhys Hoskins dropped a throw on what would have been a late-inning double play in the sixth, which was followed by an RBI single from Michael Harris II.

Nola’s night ended after pinch hitter Orlando Arcia led the seventh with a single. Cue Thomson’s slow walk to the mound and the standing ovation from the fans.

“I was just a little bummed that I didn’t release this Arcia,” Nola said. “He put a big swing on a cutter. I didn’t understand [the pitch] far enough.

“But it was pretty cool that the fans, they stood up for me right there. It was awesome.”

Says Realmuto: “He deserves every bit of credit he gets for what he’s doing for this team right now. But him not exactly acknowledging the crowd, it just looks like him. He’s a quiet, humble guy, and he stands alone, but he’s one of the main reasons we’re where we are right now.

Nola joined Cliff Lee (2009) as the only Phillies pitchers with multiple starts over six innings and no earned runs in the same postseason. Nola became the 12th pitcher in MLB history to go more than six innings without earned runs in each of his first two postseason starts. Only three of those cases have happened in the last 30 years, putting Nola in the company of Cleveland’s Corey Kluber (’16) and San Francisco’s Matt Cain (’10).

This shouldn’t be surprising. Over the past five regular seasons, only Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole and Wheeler have higher fWAR than Nola among MLB pitchers.

“He’s been in Cy Young’s conversation almost every year and hasn’t had a playoff start until this year,” Thomson said. “So I’m happy for him.”

“We haven’t necessarily been able to play games in the national spotlight,” Eflin said. “He’s been here since 2015. I’ve been here since 2016. We’ve never had the opportunity to pitch in these important games. He’s so late for all this.

Nola faced an early test that may have changed the course of Game 3 when slugger Matt Olson completed an eight-pitch walk that gave the Braves two runners on board with one out in the first. Nola calmly retired Austin Riley – who entered the game with a 1.229 OPS against Nola in 45 plate appearances – on picking a defenseman who should have been a double play. Then Nola lined up Travis’ comeback d’Arnaud and threw first to end the threat.

“We’ve faced him a few times, and when he’s like that, it’s tough,” Riley said. “You have to capitalize on mistakes; we couldn’t do it tonight.

In the third, Nola’s teammates took the pressure off with a six-run inning, highlighted by Hoskins’ emphatic bat spike after a three-run homer.

Nola and the Phillies went from there.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been in the playoffs here, obviously, and to see the fans like they were tonight is awesome,” Nola said.

So, yeah, Nola noticed the ovation. He chose to keep his head down.

“It’s him,” Eflin said. “He is as humble as can be. He deserved this moment. It made Aaron Nola walking off the mound, into his own, humble space. It was just amazing what he did tonight.