CINCINNATI -- Aaron Nola means everything to the Phillies’ postseason chances, which is why they said last month that they planned to pitch him every five days for the rest of the season. Nola is their best pitcher, and they need their best pitcher on the mound as much as
CINCINNATI -- Aaron Nola means everything to the Phillies’ postseason chances, which is why they said last month that they planned to pitch him every five days for the rest of the season. Nola is their best pitcher, and they need their best pitcher on the mound as much as possible.
But the Phillies are winless in Nola’s last three starts following Wednesday night’s 8-5 loss to the Reds at Great American Ball Park. He allowed five runs in four innings. He said he had some of his worst curveball command of the season as he struggled through his shortest start since May 13, when he lasted just three innings against the Brewers.
• Box score
“This stings a little bit,” Nola said.
The loss dropped the Phillies three games behind the Cubs for the second National League Wild Card spot with 24 games to play. Every time the Phillies lose this month, their margin for error shrinks. Consider for a moment that if the Cubs finish just 12-12 (.500), the Phillies will need to finish 15-9 (.625) to tie and 16-8 (.667) to pass them. The Phillies had one 16-8 stretch earlier this season (April 24 to May 20).
Those scenarios do not include the possibility that the Cubs play better than .500 or that the D-backs, Brewers or Mets catch fire and pass them both.
“I think what's most frustrating is we had an opportunity to pick up Aaron today,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “He's picked us up so many times along the way. He's been there for us. He's been a rock and a foundation. He's carried us in many ways. It would have been really nice on a day he didn't have his best command for us to somehow squeeze this game out. We have to find a way to win that game.”
They almost did.
The Phillies got pinch-hit home runs from Logan Morrison in the fifth inning, which cut the Reds’ lead to three, and Jay Bruce in the seventh, which tied the game. It was the third time since at least 1928 that the Phillies had two pinch-hit home runs in a game. Rip Repulski and Bob Bowman each hit one in a loss to the Pirates at Connie Mack Stadium on Aug. 13, 1958. Cy Williams and Johnny Schulte each hit one in a loss to the Cardinals at Baker Bowl on June 2, 1928.
Bruce’s blast to center field energized the Phillies’ dugout.
“‘We’ve got this game,’” Morrison said of the feeling in the dugout. “Yeah, for sure. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, but when he hit that homer, it’s like, ‘We’re going to win this game.’”
Jose Iglesias hit a pinch-hit homer off Phillies left-hander José Álvarez in the seventh to make it 6-5. It was the first homer Alvarez had allowed since June 28. It was only the seventh game in baseball history with three pinch-hit homers. The Phillies have been involved in three of them. Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen hit a two-run homer against Blake Parker in the eighth to become the first player to earn the win, hit a home run and play in the field in the same game since the Yankees’ Babe Ruth on June 13, 1921.
It was that kind of night.
“We lost the game, but that was a well-played game by us,” Bruce said. “Aaron has picked us up all year. It was good to pick him up there. Pinch-hit home runs are unlikely, and we hit two of them today. We didn't finish it off, but for us to be resilient enough to come back and make it a game, I thought that was really, really good from us.”
But the Phillies need to start winning these games that Nola starts. Everybody knows this. He has five more scheduled, including the season finale on Sept. 29 against the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. If that game means something, they hope Nola will be at his best. He wasn’t Wednesday, but he still is 6-3 with a 2.58 ERA in his last 15 starts.
“I really didn’t have much,” Nola said. “I got a lot of guys to two strikes but I just didn’t put them away.”
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .