WASHINGTON -- Aaron Nola made the type of pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning Thursday at Nationals Park that Cy Young Award winners make.Is it too much to say a 2-2 fastball to Bryce Harper saved the Phillies' season?Harper stepped into the batter's box with runners on first
WASHINGTON -- Aaron Nola made the type of pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning Thursday at Nationals Park that Cy Young Award winners make.
Is it too much to say a 2-2 fastball to Bryce Harper saved the Phillies' season?
Harper stepped into the batter's box with runners on first and second and two outs in the eighth inning. Nola started him with three consecutive curveballs to fall behind 2-1. He then threw two fastballs. Harper swung and missed the first one to even the count. He swung and missed the second one -- the 94.7-mph heater was Nola's hardest of the afternoon -- to end the threat. The strikeout preserved the Phillies' 2-0 victory over the Nationals, snapped a four-game losing streak and gave his team a little life heading into a weekend series in Toronto.
"It's tough to account for three pitches, and I think part of that is why Aaron Nola in my opinion is the Cy Young this year," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said.
Really? Over Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom?
"I believe so, yes," Kapler said. "Of course, Nola is our guy. I watch him every time out there and just the dependability, the consistency, the creativity, the numbers. The numbers speak for themselves. I think today was an example of how he beat Max Scherzer."
Scherzer, who is the favorite to win his third straight NL Cy Young Award, carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning when Jorge Alfaro reached on an infield single with one out. The game remained scoreless until the seventh, when Maikel Franco walked and Odubel Herrera crushed a two-run home run into the second deck in right field.
Nola, who improved to 15-3 with a 2.13 ERA, took care of the rest.
"He absolutely carved in college when he was at LSU," Harper said. "I know they got Jacob Arrieta of course, but Aaron Nola, he's a special player. He goes out there, he pounds the zone. He knows how to pitch, throws his changeup in great counts, high heaters, things like that."
Harper hit .636 (7-for-11) with two home runs, five RBIs, one walk and two strikeouts vs. Nola in 2015-16. He has hit .125 (2-for-16) with one walk and seven strikeouts vs. Nola in two seasons since.
"That was a tough battle," Nola said about his matchup against Harper in the eighth. "I got behind in the count right there. A couple curveballs slipped out of my hand a little bit, but I felt confident in my fastball to place it where I need it to."
Harper called Nola's effort "special." His final pitch to him certainly was.
After those three curveballs, Nola summoned Alfaro to the mound for a quick chat. Alfaro said Nola told him that he wanted to attack Harper with fastballs away and let Harper try to make the adjustment.
"I don't think he was expecting that," Alfaro said.
Nola figured it would be his final pitch of the afternoon, so he said he dug deep for one more good one.
"I think it was the moment," Nola said. "I didn't want those runs to score. I tried to bear down as much as I could. I really wanted to bear down harder and try to hump up a little on my heater."
He did and the Phillies won.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Pat Neshek pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his fourth save of the season. He is 1-0 with a 1.06 ERA in 19 appearances this season. Neshek had been warming up in the eighth, in the event Nola needed to be removed.
"I had Johan Santana when he won the Cy Young with the Twins and it was him and Francisco Liriano and you could expect seven or eight," Neshek said. "It was pretty awesome. And I haven't had that really much over the years and you are kind of jealous of the other teams who have Justin Verlander, Scherzer. It's an off-day for the bullpen for the most part, which is why those teams and their bullpens do well."
Herrera has not played as much lately because he has been struggling both offensively and defensively. He is hitting .221 with seven doubles, two triples, 13 home runs, 34 RBIs and a .649 OPS in 77 games since May 19.
"Hopefully, I take off from here," Herrera said through the Phillies' interpreter. "I want to be more confident, give guys confidence around me. I'm hoping that this will work for me."
Herrera has hit .333 (13-for-39) with three doubles, one triple, one home run, four RBIs, six walks and seven strikeouts in his career against Scherzer.
FRANCO MAKES SCHERZER WORK
Scherzer threw 109 pitches in seven innings. He threw 20 pitches in three plate appearances against Franco, who worked a six-pitch walk in the fifth and a seven-pitch walk in the seventh before Herrera homered. Franco is hitting .323 with 11 doubles, 12 home runs, 32 RBIs and a .942 OPS in 53 games since June 23.
An at-bat like Franco's in the seventh can be deflating to a pitcher, even one like Scherzer.
"I believe strongly in that," Kapler said. "It's why, if you have a microphone in the dugout all the time, you'd hear us in 0-2 counts and 1-2 counts say, 'Climb back in it, climb back in it, see one more pitch, foul one off.' We are so excited when we go 0-2 or 1-2 to 3-2 because we know how much work that takes and how frustrating it is for a pitcher. We see it with our pitchers, and we know it's occurring with opposing pitchers."
HE SAID IT
"We are a club that doesn't stay down for long. It's not to say that we won't have our rough stretches. It's not to say that we won't stumble. But we will continue to fight, and I think that's probably what today says. It makes that statement. We will continue to fight." -- Kapler
The Phillies head to Toronto to open a three-game Interleague series Friday night at 7:07 ET at Rogers Centre. Friday also marks the beginning of Players' Weekend in which players will don jerseys with their nicknames. Arrieta (9-8, 3.25 ERA) faces Blue Jays left-hander Ryan Borucki (2-3, 4.27 ERA) in the series opener. The weekend would have been an excellent opportunity to have both Carlos Santana and Justin Bour in the lineup, but the Phillies placed Bour on the 10-day DL on Thursday.
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.