May 12, 2006 marked the first time Cole Hamels walked out of the bullpen and to the mound for his first start in the Major Leagues. It was the culmination of far too much minor league box score checking, MLB.com (minors edition) Gameday watching, and hoping and praying that everything was going to work out.
It took nine years, but the Phillies finally had their most anticipated homegrown starting pitcher debut since Hamels in the form of Aaron Nola Tuesday night.
While Nola was outstanding and seemed to handle the pressure just fine, the same mistakes that fans have gotten used to as part of the 2015 campaign were evident, as the Phillies fell to the Rays 1-0.
Let's just go ahead and forget about that whole part for now.
This night was all about Nola, and the park had a bit of extra electricity in it to reflect the presence of the lanky righty. The Phillies announced attendance at 28,703, one of their bigger crowds of the season. That sentence is quite sad, as that passes for a decent crowd in 2015, but it's fair to say Nola probably brought in an extra 5,000 fans to the ballpark, something the Phillies won't complain about.
John Jaso greeted Nola with a hard double to right in the first AB of the game, but that didn't seem to bother Nola in the slightest. He came back to strike out Steven Souza and Evan Longoria in an impressive fashion, then got James Loney to ground out to end the first.
After a quick second frame, Nola allowed a homer to opposing pitcher Nathan Karns to begin the 3rd. Karns' shot to left was his first career homer. I guess that DH is just going to have to stay away from National League parks a bit longer, eh?
It was the lone blemish for Nola on Tuesday. He settled in beautifully, weaving the ball in and out of the zone over his six innings, keeping Rays hitters off-balanced in most at-bats.
There were some hard hit balls, and Nola did scatter five hits throughout the evening. The lone run allowed came on the Karns homer.
His control was also solid throughout the night, as he allowed just a single walk, and pounded the strike zone for six Ks. Nola was generally in the 92-94 MPH range throughout the game, which is right about where he has been on the radar gun throughout his minor league career.
The off-speed stuff was above-average as well, which is what made Nola so attractive in the first place heading into the draft last year.
Overall, it was a great first start for Nola. He exhibited just about all of the qualities everyone had been talking about over the past few months, and more importantly, he bounced back from a poor AAA start that he had against Rochester before reaching the Majors. Nola hasn't had too many down games this year, so it was nice to see him come back from that game.
The rest of the evening in South Philadelphia was less than thrilling. The mistakes that have been there all season were on full display.
Cody Asche was thrown out trying to go from first to third. Domonic Brown dropped a ball in right that, while a tough play, should have been made. Odubel Herrera failed to run a ball out and got doubled up on a play that should be a double play a grand total of 0 times out of 10 with a player like Herrera running.
Karns' night lasted just five shutout innings, as the Rays have been going to the bullpen a bit more than your average team with certain starters on the hill. The bullpen did the job, too. The Phillies had no answers.
It was a pitcher's duel through and through. Nola will probably get into a few of these in his career if he's lucky. Right now, the other guys on this roster aren't really equipped to help him in these close games. That's the cold, hard truth at the moment. The future might offer something different.