Phils keep hanging tough vs. NL's best arms

Nola goes toe-to-toe with deGrom, gives glimpse of club's playoff potential

August 14th, 2022

NEW YORK -- The Phillies faced three of the best pitchers in the National League this week, and the results against Sandy Alcantara, Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom were roughly on par with what one would expect against that caliber of pitching: 20 2/3 innings, five runs scored (three of which came in the same frame vs. Alcantara) and 20 strikeouts.

But most telling about where the Phillies stand as the playoff race heats up is that they still found a way to hang around -- and before Saturday, win -- when the opposition has Cy Young-caliber stuff on the mound. After a stretch of piling up victories against some of the weaker competition in the NL, Philadelphia has solidified itself as more than just a bully.

The latest proof -- a 1-0 loss to the Mets on Saturday night -- featured Aaron Nola’s finest work opposite deGrom, who is healthy and as unhittable as ever. Like Friday’s 10-inning thriller, it was a pitchers’ duel that had shades of mid-October. The sellout crowd of 43,857 was Citi Field’s largest this season. Led by Nola, the Phillies’ showing amid the noise carried meaning.

“It says we've got the ability to be in games with great pitching and win games with great pitching,” said interim manager Rob Thomson. “Because we pitch, and we play defense, and we can scratch runs across. I think it's a boost to our confidence.”

The game’s only run was plated in the first after Starling Marte singled, stole second, advanced to third on J.T. Realmuto’s throwing error and came home on an RBI knock by Pete Alonso. Nola permitted two more singles the first time through the order, then picked up steam. He retired 19 of the final 20 batters he faced. The lone exception, a leadoff walk issued to Jeff McNeil in the eighth, was promptly erased with a 3-6-4 double play. 

Nola struck out eight, generating 31 called strikes and whiffs in his fourth career complete game. He still took the loss.

“Tough loss,” Nola said. “Good battle. I mean, going against some good pitchers right there. deGrom, he's one of the most electric guys in the game right now.”

deGrom one-upped Nola’s filth from the get-go. He froze Bryson Stott on a 3-2 four-seam fastball at 101.1 mph for the game’s first out. deGrom fired eight four-seamers in the first inning, topping out at 101.7 mph and not dipping below 99.7, before turning on cruise control. He allowed just two hits, struck out 10 and walked none. His slider touched a ridiculous 94.4 mph. 

But as he works back from the stress reaction in his right shoulder that cost him the first half of the season, deGrom’s day was capped at six dominant innings and 76 pitches.

“He's deGrom,” Stott, who singled in the sixth, said with a chuckle. “He's got an elite fastball and elite slider. I thought our at-bats as a whole were pretty good. He threw a lot of pitches early on, and he kind of settled in there for a second. And like I said, it's deGrom.”

On Wednesday, the Phillies used a late barrage of singles to knock off Alcantara. Ranger Suárez matched Scherzer long enough on Friday for the Phils to pull out a win with their defense and timely hitting. The results in other phases never came on Saturday -- Philadelphia drew two walks against Mets closer Edwin Díaz before Nick Castellanos struck out to end the game -- but Nola’s outing was the kind the club will need to not only maintain pace in the NL Wild Card race, but have a chance at advancing further if they do.

It’s progress. Earlier this season, Philadelphia’s four series losses against New York were more damaging. The Phils were no-hit. They gave up seven runs in a historic ninth-inning collapse. They were swept at Citi Field and parted ways with their manager a few days later.

But there was no shame in Saturday’s result. Had the Phillies cracked deGrom, it would have been just the fourth time in franchise history they had won back-to-back games when the opposing team started Cy Young winners in each. Still, something that has eluded this club in 2022 remains for the taking when the sun rises.

“We just got to dust ourselves off,” Thomson said, “and try to win a series tomorrow.”