PHILADELPHIA -- After Aaron Nola's last start, the Phillies ace said pitching in a pennant race is "addicting." He is usually a reserved speaker, so the comment vocalized what meaningful baseball in August does to someone who had only thrown for a primarily last-place team in his young career.
Friday night's 4-2 win over the Mets at Citizens Bank Park only furthered the notion that the Phillies have to wish they could feed Nola's habit of dominating opposing lineups more often than every fifth game.
"He rises to the occasion," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "He's ready for the biggest moment. He likes the brightest spotlight."
Nola allowed just one earned run on three hits over seven innings to lower his ERA to 2.24, the lowest mark of any Phillies pitcher through 25 starts since 1964. The 25-year-old right-hander walked one and hit a batter while striking out 11 to become the youngest Phillies pitcher since Ray Culp in 1963 to record five double-digit strikeout games in a season. Twenty times this season Nola has allowed two or fewer runs.
And with his win count now at 14, double that of Mets Cy Young contender Jacob deGrom, Nola is a serious candidate for the award. The race is essentially down to Nola, deGrom and Nationals ace Max Scherzer. Starts like this only help Nola's cause.
"To be up there in the top with those other two guys -- those guys are pretty good," Nola said. "We'll see one of them [deGrom] tomorrow. I'm just trying to win for this team, though."
A division title is Nola's main target, and Friday's effort, paired with the Braves' loss to Colorado, brought the Phillies to within a half-game of Atlanta for first place in the National League East. With each Nola start, it's becoming more plausible to picture him throwing here in October.
If there is something that will prevent that image from being realized, it's likely a lack of offense. That was not an issue Friday. The Phillies scored three runs on Noah Syndergaard in the first inning thanks to four hits and RBIs from Asdrubal Cabrera and Nick Williams. That quickly eliminated the possibility of the one thing that has plagued the Phillies when they have their ace on the mound: a quiet night at the plate. Philadelphia has lost only seven of Nola's starts in 2018. In those games, the club has averaged just 2.14 runs.
"Scoring early is important," Nola said. "It takes a little stress off. You really can attack the zone when they put up runs early in the game."
The only stress came from the six baserunners Nola let on, but he said his ability to bear down more was what enabled him to minimize damage. The Phillies are used to it.
"He just elevates his game," Kapler said. "And we saw that tonight."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Crazy curve: Nola collected 13 swinging strikes with his curveball, including one at 81 mph to Michael Conforto in the fourth and one at 79 mph to get Wilmer Flores to strike out to end the seventh inning. That was Nola's 108th and final pitch, and it looked good enough to have been his first.
"I was throwing it harder," Nola said. "I felt like my arm strength was better tonight. My delivery felt better than it has lately. I can throw it for strikes. I can throw it out of the zone and down with some depth. I think that's why it was effective."
Bear down: After falling behind Syndergaard 2-0 with two runners on and no outs in the fifth, Nola fought back to strike out Syndergaard with a 3-2 fastball. Jack Reinheimer met the same fate in the next at-bat with a 1-2 changeup, and Amed Rosario grounded out to end the frame. Right when Nola's command had disappeared, he was able to dial back in and keep the baserunners he put on from advancing.
"Despite what's going on around him, he has a different level of confidence in himself," Kapler said.
Finish strong:Victor Arano struck out the first two batters in the eighth, but then surrendered consecutive hits to allow the Mets to bring the score to 4-2. Kapler called on left-hander Adam Morgan to face Conforto, who represented the tying run. Morgan struck him out on a 3-2 slider, and Pat Neshek saved the game with a scoreless ninth.
Besides Nola, the only other Phillies pitchers to record five double-digit-strikeout games in a season were Cliff Lee, Steve Carlton, Jim Bunning, Curt Schilling, Chris Short and Culp.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The Phillies were clearly aggressive on the basepaths, which Kapler said was because of Syndergaard's slow approach to the plate. Maikel Franco stole his first base since 2016. Jorge Alfaro swiped the first two bags of his career. Cesar Hernandez and Carlos Santana also added a stolen base apiece, and the Phillies stole five bags for the first time since July 23, 2016.
"We wanted to run as much as possible," Roman Quinn said. "[First-base coach Jose David] Flores pulled us to the side and was like, 'Yo, we need to steal more bases."
HE SAID IT
"It's pretty nasty. I actually have seen it in live BP once before, and it's not something you want to stand in front of. He did a great job tonight." -- Quinn, on Nola's curveball
Another big-name pitching matchup headlines the final game of the series in Philadelphia before the Phillies and Mets complete their five-game set at the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa., as Jacob Arrieta (9-7, 3.33 ERA) faces deGrom (7-7, 1.81) on Saturday. Arrieta struggled in his last outing, allowing five runs in five innings against the Padres, but posted a 1.29 ERA in the three starts prior. First pitch is set for 4:05 p.m. ET.