PHILADELPHIA – Aaron Nola knew the stakes before he stepped on the mound Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park.
He knew the Cubs won, which meant the Phillies needed to win to keep pace in the National League Wild Card race. He allowed just one run in seven innings, but the Phillies still lost to the Red Sox, 2-1. The Phillies are winless in Nola’s last five starts as they fell 3 1/2 games behind the Cubs for the second Wild Card spot with 15 games to play.
“I'm not going to sugarcoat it and say we have a bunch of time left, because we really don't,” Nola said. “We have 15 games left. It's a good bit, but it's really not that much.”
It isn’t. If the Cubs play just .500 the rest of the way they will finish 87-75. The Phillies would need to finish 11-4 to tie. It is why FanGraphs lists their playoff odds at just 1.7 percent. The Phillies play the Red Sox in Sunday’s series finale before they hit the road for a grueling 11-game road trip, with three games in Atlanta, three games in Cleveland and five games in four days in Washington.
“It’s go time, right?” Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “Every loss feels heavier and every win feels a lot better.”
It is hard to believe the Phillies have not won a Nola start since he beat the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Aug. 20. It is the third-longest winless streak of his career. If the Phillies win just three of those games, they are a half-game back of the Cubs and things are a lot more interesting heading into the season’s final two-plus weeks.
“We’ve seen him the last two years,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “With all due respect to all the pitchers that we have faced, he’s been the best one. I think it’s four starts, and I love the way he competes, love his stuff. He doesn’t panic. He’s pitched twice over there at home and twice here, but with the offense that we have, he still dominates us. They really have a good one. He’s a special one. It would have been cool to face him in October, but I guess we’ll face him next year.”
“We kind of saw vintage Nola tonight,” Hoskins said.
Nola allowed his only run in the seventh, but he worked out of a bases-loaded jam with two outs when Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez hit for himself and struck out swinging to end the inning. Rodriguez allowed a run in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game. He allowed a couple singles before hitting Adam Haseley with a pitch to load the bases. Rodriguez walked Maikel Franco to force home a run.
Rodriguez struck out 12 in just 6 2/3 innings. He got 19 swings and misses, including 16 on his changeup.
“Reminded me a little bit of [Johan] Santana and his changeup,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “Just pops out of his hand and is really slow getting to the plate and it looks like his fastball, and for that reason we were chasing off the plate a little bit."
The Red Sox scored the go-ahead run in the ninth against Phillies closer Héctor Neris, when pinch-hitter Andrew Benintendi’s sacrifice fly to left field scored pinch-runner Chris Owings.
“A big one tomorrow to obviously try to split a series, try to create some momentum to go on the road,” Hoskins said. “We know the teams that we’re playing are good, but again I’ll just kind of reiterate: if we can play our game and obviously pitch the way we did tonight and hit the way we know we can, we believe and are confident that we can beat anybody. Home or away.”