SAN DIEGO -- Amongst a sea of yellow at raucous Petco Park stood A.J. and Stacie Nola, not quite sure how to react when their eldest son, Austin, sparked a five-run rally against his younger brother, Aaron.
Earlier in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series between the Phillies and Padres, the Nolas became the first pitcher/batter brother combination to square off in MLB postseason history.
While Round 1 went to Aaron in the second inning, Austin got his revenge with a run-scoring single on an 0-2 count in the fifth. The hit cut the Padres' deficit to 4-3 before Austin scored on Juan Soto's game-tying double. San Diego would go on to win, 8-5, on Wednesday and even the NLCS at one game apiece.
“It was the best and worst inning of my life,” A.J. told MLB.com. He anxiously stood as Aaron made three pickoff attempts, then settled into his seat as a FOX camera captured his reactions.
In their first at-bat against each other, Austin, 32, took a first-pitch cutter for a strike from Philadelphia’s 29-year-old right-hander before he chopped a sinker to third for an inning-ending groundout in the second. Earlier in the frame, Aaron had served up homers on consecutive pitches as San Diego trimmed its deficit to 4-2.
With his name being chanted throughout the ballpark in the fifth, Austin took advantage of Aaron’s elevated two-strike sinker and lined it to right-center for a one-out RBI single as Ha-Seong Kim scored from first on the play. Though Aaron didn’t think the brotherly matchup changed the game, the floodgates soon opened, as he was pulled three batters later with the score tied at 4.
When that happened, Stacie told her husband to switch jerseys; for Aaron’s starts, A.J. wears his Phillies jersey on top of his Padres one.
“I wish I could have taken a snapshot and just held the moment for like a day, because that's how fun it is,” Austin said. “And I'm sure he would say the same thing, that like stepping in the box against your brother in a situation, just facing [off] in a big league game is enough to just hold the moment. I was like, ‘I wish I could press pause on the time button and just live it for much longer than what it does,’ because it happens really quick.”
In two previous games between the Nolas, Austin collected one hit in six plate appearances, with a walk and two strikeouts. That lone hit -- an RBI single on June 24 -- was the decisive knock in a 1-0 San Diego victory. It made Austin the first player in the Modern Era (since 1900) to log a game-winning hit off his brother that was the sole RBI of the game.
The emotions were the same Wednesday as they were then. Minutes before first pitch, Stacie and A.J. tried to contain their nerves and anxiety from their seats along the first-base line. Austin, whose Padres were the home team, left them tickets with his wife and two kids. Aaron’s fiancée and her family sat in the Phillies section.
“For both of them, when they get up when the game starts, they're not brothers,” said Stacie, who wore a neutral blue outfit. “Both of their mindsets, they're not brothers. Just another Padre, just another Phillie.”
Aaron entered Wednesday with 12 2/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. Austin, who has caught every inning this postseason, is now batting .321 with five RBIs.
Something had to give.
“It's the same as it was the first time we played against each other,” Aaron said. “We're trying to win, they're trying to win. That's what it comes down to. He's swinging the bat pretty well right now. He's balanced up there, and just try to make pitches to him.”
Both siblings consider themselves the ultimate competitors, so there’s no empathy with the result because of what’s at stake. There will be time to reflect on the history they made over the offseason. After all, there’s a trip to the World Series on the line. If the NLCS heads back to Southern California, Aaron will be lined up for Game 6 on Monday.
“It's special for sure,” Austin said. “I'll always remember it. He'll always remember it. My family will always remember it. I'm sure we'll be talking about this 20 years from now when we're all sitting [at] Christmas time talking about these moments, right? That's what it's all about.”