Hats off: Nola tips cap to Phils fans after 9-K Game 3 gem

October 12th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- knows that every start this postseason could be his last in a Phillies uniform.

But he's doing everything in his power to ensure that's not the case.

Nola, a free agent after this season, walked off the mound to a standing ovation on Wednesday night after stifling the Braves in the Phillies' 10-2 win in Game 3 of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park. And for the second time in the past two weeks, the typically stoic Nola uncharacteristically tipped his cap.

"I just want to soak it in as much as possible," Nola said. "Fans were awesome tonight, as usual. ... So I wanted to tip my cap and thank them. That's why they're the best, man."

Nola's other cap tip came as he walked off the mound on Sept. 26 in what may have been his final regular-season start for a Phillies team that drafted him seventh overall in 2014. All he did on that day was hold Pittsburgh to one run over 6 2/3 innings while earning the win in Philadelphia's postseason-clinching victory for a second straight season.

Eight days later, Nola tossed seven scoreless innings in the Phillies' NL Wild Card Series-clinching win over the Marlins. While that victory guaranteed that Nola would make at least one more start at Citizens Bank Park, Wednesday's win did not come with the same assurance.

Even if the Phillies eventually eliminate the Braves and advance to the NL Championship Series, Nola's starts could potentially come on the road. Knowing that, did the possibility that this could be his last home start creep into his mind?

"Honestly, no. It hasn't set in," Nola said. "I haven't even thought about that part of it yet, just because [I'm] just trying to be as much as in the moment tonight as I could. And we've still got one more game, right? And nothing is a guarantee."

Nola has given the home fans plenty to cheer about over the past two postseasons. In four playoff outings at Citizens Bank Park, he's 3-1 with a 1.99 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings.

The veteran righty racked up a postseason career-high nine strikeouts in Game 3, while holding the Braves to two runs off six hits and one walk over 5 2/3 innings. Nola escaped a two-on, two-out jam in the first by striking out Marcell Ozuna with a 95.3 mph fastball on the outside corner -- his second-fastest pitch for a strikeout this season. He stranded two more runners in the third by getting Ozuna to chase a curve for strike three.

By the time Nola returned to the mound in the fourth, he had been staked to a 6-1 lead courtesy of a six-run third inning. The outburst was highlighted by Bryce Harper's mammoth three-run homer, his first of two long balls.

But Nola didn't take his foot off the gas. He struck out two more batters in a perfect fourth and worked around a one-out single by Ronald Acuña Jr. in the fifth. Nola left the game with one on and two outs in the sixth after getting Travis d'Arnaud to whiff at a 94.2 mph fastball for strike three. It was the 16th whiff induced by Nola in Game 3 -- the most in any of his seven postseason starts.

"Noles is ones of the best in the game in these moments and in these opportunities," Harper said. "And there's nothing like it, you know, being able to watch him and compete with him."

Though Nola has had an up-and-down year -- he allowed a career-high 32 home runs and posted a 4.46 ERA during the regular season -- that could all be forgotten with a few more starts like his first two this postseason.

That's why he received "No-la" chants from the sold-out crowd of 45,798 before the game even started. And it's why he left the mound to the loudest ovation he's received in his nine seasons as a Phillie.

"It's pretty cool to hear them chant your name," Nola said. "I mean, it's always kind of addicting to be out there, especially in the postseason here, and especially when we're winning, right? Because they're so into the game, and they're so passionate, which makes it so much more fun for us."

Nobody knows what the future will hold, but Nola is hoping he has some more cap tips in his future.

"I obviously hope so," Nola said. "I hope I have some more starts here, but I just tried to stay as much in the moment tonight as I could."