Nola has rare postseason stumble in potential final home start

Phils' impending free-agent starter goes 4 1/3 innings with four runs allowed in Game 6

October 24th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Aaron Nola has preached all postseason -- and much of the 2023 campaign, for that matter -- about focusing only on what he can control.

Well, that approach is about to be tested like never before.

Nola, who had been brilliant in three starts this postseason, endured his first hiccup in the Phillies' 5-1 loss to the D-backs in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park. With a winner-take-all Game 7 looming on Tuesday night, there is now very little within his control from a baseball perspective.

It may have been Nola's final start at Citizens Bank Park. It could prove to be his final start in a Phillies uniform. Or it could ultimately be a small blip on his way to playing a pivotal role in winning the World Series next week.

But much of that hinges on Game 7 starter Ranger Suárez and the rest of Nola's teammates.

“Obviously, tonight wasn’t a great night for me," Nola said. "Tough loss. I’m going to cheer my team on and do whatever we can to win. That’s what it comes down to."

It's unfamiliar territory for Nola, who is in the final year of his contract with the team that drafted him seventh overall in 2014.

Nola had won each of his previous two starts in potential clinchers (Game 2 in both the 2022 and '23 NL Wild Card Series). He didn't allow a run over 13 2/3 innings in those outings.

In fact, Nola was also the starting pitcher when the Phils clinched a postseason berth in each of the past two seasons. He allowed one run over 13 1/3 innings in those two starts.

But the D-backs made sure Nola wasn't responsible for setting off any clubhouse celebrations this time around. Tommy Pham and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. tagged Nola for back-to-back homers in the second. Evan Longoria later capped the three-run frame with an RBI double.

All of that came after Nola struck out three batters around a two-out single in the first.

"Just a bad [second] inning right there," Nola said. "I threw too many balls over the plate tonight, and they didn’t miss them.”

Pham, who lamented fouling off a 1-0 fastball over the middle of the plate, was as surprised as anyone to see Nola hang a 2-2 curve.

"He has been dominant. Nola is a great pitcher," Pham said. " ... It just looked like he missed his spot. You know, he was trying to get the ball out over away. It came in, and I didn't miss it."

That was the theme of the night for Nola. After inducing three swings and misses in his three-strikeout first inning, he forced just three whiffs on 63 pitches the rest of the way.

Nola's six whiffs were his third fewest in any outing this year -- and half of the 12 he had averaged in his first three postseason starts. 

"Yeah, it was a little strange," manager Rob Thomson said. "Because that first inning, he comes out and he really executed everything. ... But he didn't execute some pitches, and he paid for it."

Nola had allowed just two runs and two walks over 18 2/3 innings in his first three starts this postseason. That also happened to be his first three-game homerless stretch in 2023.

But Nola was tagged for four runs off six hits (including two homers) and two walks in just 4 1/3 innings in Game 6. Nola departed with a runner on third, and while it wasn’t quite the same recognition that prompted cap tips after his previous postseason gems, he still received an ovation from the Philadelphia faithful.

“It always feels good when they give you an ovation like that,” Nola said. “But not a great night for me. It was a tough one, pitching-wise.”

And now all Nola can do is watch from the dugout on Tuesday, as he hopes for at least one more start in a Phillies uniform before entering an offseason full of unknowns.

“I haven’t really thought about that yet,” Nola said of the possibility that he may have made his final start as a Phillie. “Kind of too caught up in the moment right now. Tomorrow is obviously big, and I’m just worried about that.”