The moment was really emotional for Rhys Hoskins.

Uncertain if he will ever play a baseball game for the Philadelphia Phillies again, Hoskins was asked to throw out the first pitch of Game 1 of the Wild Card series Tuesday.

It was incredibly touching. You could see the emotions on Hoskins’ face. He constantly acknowledged the fans with as many “love” symbols as possible, whether it was his trademark three-fingered rock on salute, often reserved for the bullpen on a homer, or the crossed arms over his chest, or pointing to the Phillies logo over his heart and tapping lightly on his chest, everyone knew what this moment meant for Hoskins.

But this story isn’t about Hoskins.

Nope. In fact, it’s about another Phillie with a similar career arc. Only this time, the guy will be able to get on the field at Citizens Bank Park, at least one more time, and that will take place Wednesday in Game 2 of the N.L. Wild Card series.

That guy, is Aaron Nola.

Like Hoskins, Nola was a top prospect who made a quick rise to the big leagues. He’s been the Phillies’ best pitcher for most of his career with the team, but has always been a lightning rod in the city.

That’s because, also like Hoskins, Nola represented an era of Phillies baseball with unfulfilled promise. Those teams in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 were all supposed to reach the playoffs, and didn’t. Two managers were fired because of it. Ditto for a GM and a president of baseball operations.

The two guys who survived it were Hoskins and Nola. Therefore, everything they did was always going to bear more scrutiny. They continued to take on shrapnel from failures of the past, even during the successes of the present.

It was unfair at times. Hoskins, while streaky, has a career OPS of .846. He’s hit 148 home runs in just 667 games at the major league level. But, his defense at both first base and the failed experiment that was making him a left fielder, always reared its ugly head, and if he was going through one of his cold streaks at the plate, the vitriol grew worse.

That all changed with the 2022 playoffs. In fact, it all changed with one swing:

From that point forward, Hoskins was forever one of Philly’s own. He represented this city like few others have or do now. He was a Philly sports icon.

The only thing that kept him from being in that rarified air of the most beloved of all time is the fact that he didn’t win a championship – yet.

That’s why Hoskins is now on a plane to Clearwater, Fla. to train with the rest of the “stay ready” camp players, identified as extras who could be called upon in case of emergency.

He’s going to continue working. Continue practicing. Take live batting practice. Keep rehabbing. And hope… hope that his team can keep playing long enough for him to come back and get a few important swings in one more World Series before he goes off into the great unknown of free agency.

In order for that to happen, his team is going to need Nola to be Nola.

For much of 2023, he wasn’t. Nola had one of the worst seasons of his career. He gave up more hits in 2023 than any other season. Excluding the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, he had fewer strikeouts than any season since 2017. He gave up the most home runs in a season in his career. He had the third worst ERA and ERA+ and second-worst FIP of his career.

Like Hoskins, Nola is also facing free agency as soon as the season ends, and there is real uncertainty about where he’ll be next season. He could return – because the Phillies have some starting pitching needs that they didn’t expect going into 2024, but he also could sign elsewhere as there is sure to be a lot of money offered since the free agent market is short on talented arms.

Where the two differ is Nola hasn’t had that defining postseason moment that Hoskins had. He hasn’t done something to be embraced tightly by the Phillies fan base.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s liked by the city. He received a substantial ovation when he was removed from the game in the playoff-clinching win against Pittsburgh, and he acknowledged the crowd with a tip of his cap. But he still carries the stigma of being one of the guys who didn’t get the Phillies where they are sooner.

He still can. He can still make that difference. He can still have his moment – or moments.

Nola has looked much better in his last two starts against the Braves and Pirates. In fact, if you go back to August 5th, the Phillies are 8-1 in Nola’s last nine starts.

Take it a step further and remove an absolutely awful start in Milwaukee in which he allowed seven earned runs in just 4 2/3 innings, and Nola has been better than you think.

In those other eight starts, all Phillies wins, he’s had just a 3.15 ERA and a 1.073 WHIP. He just hasn’t provided his usual length, averaging just 5 2/3 innings in each of those eight starts.

But he has the ability to really make a difference.

For the second straight year, he pitched a gem in the playoff-clinching game. In 2022 it was in Houston, in 2023 it was at home against the Pirates, so not quite the same challenge, but still.

Now he has a chance to put the Phillies into the NLDS again. Last year it was with a great outing in St. Louis. Tonight it can be against the Marlins – at home.

And if he can do that, Nola’s next start will also be at home – against the Braves, a team he held to a .232/.270/.406 slash line for a .676 OPS in three starts this season. Not many pitchers can say the same about that Braves offense.

There are a lot of fans who don’t trust Nola still, and after the way things have gone for him this season, it’s understandable as to why, but he has a chance to be a postseason hero, and if he is, and he has his Hoskins moment, the 2023 regular season will be forgotten, and his legacy will be re-written, alongside his long-time teammate.

Other Notes:

  • With the Marlins starting another lefty in Game 2 (Braxton Garrett), expect the same lineup for the Phillies as Game 1.
  • Nobody talked about the game Trea Turner had last night, but he had two hits, a walk and two stolen bases. It likely got lost in the shuffle because he didn’t have an RBI or score a run, but it was a low-key excellent game for the Phillies shortstop.
  • Nick Castellanos got a lot of attention for his ring finger celebration, but keep in mind the guy had two doubles and an RBI as well.

Two other great notes from the game last night, check out these tweets: