BOSTON -- Make pitches and get ahead in the count.In his first career start in Fenway Park, Aaron Nola kept his focus narrow. How else do you approach a lineup as lethal as the Red Sox? Though the Phillies fell to the Red Sox, 2-1, in 13 innings on Monday
BOSTON -- Make pitches and get ahead in the count.
In his first career start in Fenway Park, Aaron Nola kept his focus narrow. How else do you approach a lineup as lethal as the Red Sox? Though the Phillies fell to the Red Sox, 2-1, in 13 innings on Monday night, the long battle pointed to the promise of this young team -- starting with Nola.
"I felt pretty good," Nola said. "All of my pitches were working tonight."
Fresh off of being swept by the Reds over the weekend, the Phillies entered the game with a 1 1/2-game lead over the Braves in the National League East, seeking their first postseason berth since 2011. That lead has since narrowed to a half-game, as the Braves defeated the Marlins 5-3 on Monday. The Phillies were facing the team with the most wins in the MLB, and they needed to win.
Under these high stakes, Nola excelled. He allowed four hits, one run and one walk while striking out six through eight innings -- tying his career high in innings pitched. He threw 105 pitches, 73 for strikes.
Nola dominated the Red Sox's slugging lineup from the start. He threw 17 strikes in 20 pitches in the first two innings, denying the Red Sox batters' attempts to reach base. The Red Sox remained hitless until an infield single by Sandy Leon in the third inning.
"That might be the best offense in baseball," manager Gabe Kapler said. "To do what he did to the middle of their lineup in particular is absolutely spectacular."
Kapler elected to keep Nola on the mound in the eighth inning. Nola got in some trouble early, allowing Brock Holt to reach second on a liner to left field. Nola knew he was in trouble. A leadoff double is dangerous, but a leadoff double in Fenway Park, where a big play and a boisterous crowd can flip momentum like a switch? It looked like the Phillies' star might fade, but Kapler kept Nola in the game.
"I've never wavered in my confidence in Aaron Nola," Kapler said. "And I never will."
Despite the pressure, and despite fatigue, he worked his way out of the jam, forcing two flyouts and striking out Mookie Betts to end the inning.
Nola lived up to the expectations of an ace.
Before the game, Kapler and assistant pitching coach Chris Young spoke about grading Nola's makeup -- his composure, preparation and command on a 20-to-80 scale. How would they quantify his intangibles?
"We were looking at Nola and going, that is the definition of 80 makeup," Kapler said.
The stifling pitching from Nola and Red Sox starter David Price followed by a strong bullpen presence forced the game into extra innings. That Nola could throw so deep in the game proved essential as the battle stretched on, straining the Phillies' bullpen.
Against the best team in the MLB, the Phillies grinded toe-to-toe through 12 innings.
Until the 13th. Blake Swihart broke the scoreless stretch in the 13th when he crushed a walk-off ground-rule double to give the Red Sox the win.
"It stinks," Kapler said. "It's a punch in the face, but we've gotten punched in the face many times this season. We've come back the next day prepared to fight again and again. That is the M.O. of this team. It is what defines us is we do not stay down for long."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
With Jackie Bradley Jr. on first for the Red Sox in the fifth inning, Eduardo Nunez knocked a liner to center field, well within Odubel Herrera's reach. Herrera had a 96 percent catch probability and needed to run 38 feet to make the grab. Instead, he ran a 51-foot fish hook around the ball. It flew a few feet above his glove and landed in the outfield behind him, giving the Red Sox a run and squandering the Phillies' lead.
Herrera said he misread the ball as a fly ball when it was really a liner, making him run too far in front of it. Kapler spoke with Herrera about this play and a baserunning error after the game.
"It's a human error play," Kapler said. "You read the ball at a certain height, and a certain velocity off the bat, you make a split-second decision. His decision wasn't the right decision, but that is just baseball. That is human error, that happens."
Nola's eight-inning outing was just the second time a Phillies starter has pitched eight innings this season; Nola is also responsible for the first such start. He held the first five batters in the Red Sox's lineup hitless en route to his 13th start of allowing four or fewer hits.
HE SAID IT
"It was probably the pitching performance of the year. From the beginning to the end when he came out of the game, he was sharp with all of his pitches. And in fact, there were times in his last inning of work where I thought his ball had some of the best life that it had in the entire game. He landed his breaking ball at will. He essentially controlled everything he could possibly control. He deserved a better outcome. It's not how baseball works. He did a great job for us, and we're really proud of him doing everything that he did to give us a chance to win." -- Kapler, on Nola's performance
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With Scott Kingery at the plate in the top of the ninth inning, Roman Quinn bolted to second base in an attempt to steal. Leon fired the ball to second, and Quinn slid into the bag as Holt applied the tag. Quinn was ruled safe, but the Red Sox challenged the call, and the replay showed Holt tag a sliding Quinn before his fingertips touched second base. Quinn was ruled out, ending the top of the ninth and the Phillies' final scoring attempt before extra innings.
Jacob Arrieta (8-6, 3.45 ERA) will start on Tuesday against Thomas Pomeranz (1-4, 6.91 ERA) in the finale of the two-game series against the Red Sox. Arrieta has struggled in his last two outings, giving up eight runs over 9 1/3 innings against the Padres and Dodgers. First pitch at Fenway is slated for 7:10 p.m. ET.
Blake Richardson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Boston.