The Phillies needed a win in the worst way against the Braves on Sunday afternoon, and they desperately needed Aaron Nola to be the guy to deliver it.
He did just that.
Entering the day with a 6.10 ERA over his previous eight starts, Nola turned in a vintage outing, holding the Braves to just four hits and one run over 8 2/3 innings.
Nola, who has a 3.05 ERA in nine starts at Citizens Bank Park this season, worked aggressively by attacking the 28 Atlanta hitters he faced with 21 first-pitch strikes.
“He was outstanding today,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said afterward. “[Austin] Riley was the only hitter that really gave him a little trouble today, but everything was good. It starts with the location of his fastball. It was really good today.”
It wasn’t that Nola recorded 26 outs while allowing just a single run, it’s that he did so with virtually no margin for error, and he did so on the heels of one of the Phillies’ most embarrassing losses of the season.
While it’s true all wins count the same in the standings, Nola’s effort carried a bit more significance as the organization’s front office assesses its strategy ahead of Friday’s trade deadline. Bullpen arms and fourth starters are great and all, but neither means much in the absence of an effective Nola.
For a Phillies team with a yo-yo playoff outlook, his performance was unquestionably the most important aspect of what transpired over the course of a refreshingly crisp 150-minute game.
Still, the win did not come without a tense moment or two.
With Braves starter Touki Toussaint’s lone mistake coming on a Jean Segura solo homer in the fourth inning, Nola carried a one-run lead into the seventh.
Austin Riley was on second base following a leadoff double when Dansby Swanson grounded a ball back through the middle that appeared as if it would tie the game. It did not, however, because of a sensational diving stop by Segura.
Jean. Segura. 🔥
Provides a run in the fourth, saves a run in the seventh. pic.twitter.com/7wbE3vpVCx
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) July 25, 2021
“Segura made a heck of a play, man. That play was unbelievable,” Nola said after the game. “It gave me a chance to get out of the inning, so that was a big part of the game right there.”
With Riley now on third and one away, Nola would get Abraham Almonte to fly out to shallow left for the second out before getting Guillermo Heredia to bounce out for the final out of the frame.
It was a particularly encouraging sequence for Nola given his immense struggles with two outs and runners in scoring position this season.
Opponents entered the day hitting .301 with an .886 OPS against Nola with runners in scoring position. They were also posting a staggering .342 average and 1.129 OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position.
“This year, I think, I just haven’t made quality pitches with guys on base. I’ve given up too many home runs, I’ve given up too many hits, especially with guys on second and third,” Nola said. “Today, luckily, I didn’t have many guys on the bases, so I didn’t come across that really big inning with a lot of guys on, which I kind have all year.”
Now protecting a two-run lead following a Ronald Torreyes solo homer in the eighth, Nola went back out for the ninth. He worked within one pitch of spinning a complete game shutout, but his 116th and final pitch of the afternoon was driven over the right field fence, drawing Girardi from the dugout.
Austin Riley looking to make things verrrrry interesting in the 9th 👀 pic.twitter.com/CMMcS5L0De
— Bally Sports: Braves (@BravesOnBally) July 25, 2021
While Riley’s shot created a few moments of anxiety for many of the 19,370 fans on hand, Ranger Suárez promtply delivered the game’s final out four pitches later with a strikeout of Dansby Swanson.
The win moves the Phillies back to the .500 mark for the 19th time this season and keeps them within four games of the Mets for first place in the National League East.