After so many impressive starts in a row, and with the bullpen in need of a nap, everybody wanted Aaron Nola to go seven strong against the Angels. Maybe even eight.
But anyone watching his pitch count tick upward could see that he didn’t have quite the efficiency to let that happen last night, and in the end, two innings of this bullpen was enough for the Angels to break it wide open after Nola had done his best to keep them at bay.
It looks like the Phillies bullpen tonight is:— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) August 1, 2017
A rookie LOOGY
A rookie RP with 1.1 MLB IP
A rookie debut
A rookie AAA SP
The broadcasters knew it. The bullpen knew it. When asked who was closing tonight, Mackanin said that hopefully, it would be Nola. But as Nola neared 100 pitches in the top of the sixth, having given up two runs the inning before, Mark Leiter, Jr. was warming up in the pen. Six innings sounds perfectly serviceable for a Phillies starter in 2017, but unfortunately, Nola’s last few starts have set a higher bar, as evidenced by his disposal of Albert Pujols in the first.
Aaron Nola strikes out Albert Pujols looking to end the first. Nola leads MLB in the highest percentage of called strikes at 21.9 percent.— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) August 2, 2017
The Phillies spotted Nola a lead, irritating Ricky Nolasco early in the first. Cesar Hernandez singled his way on base and made it to third when Nolasco hurled a wild pitch and the Angels infield committed the first of two early errors on an Aaron Altherr dribbler. Tommy Joseph’s single scored Hernandez, his first strike of an effective 2-for-3 night with a walk. Boy, that’s some appealing box scoring; right, other teams? Sure it is.
Well, the Phillies were done scoring at this point, and it was only the totally reasonable hour of about 11:15 when the Angels got their offense in gear. Nola finally buckled in the fifth after keeping a lid on the Los Angeles offense, getting a further boost from Nick Williams nailing Yunel Escobar at the plate in the third inning in a moment that left Mike Scioscia disgusted, when Albert Pujols tagged a two-run double to give the Angels the lead. Mike Trout, having worked Nola’s only walk of the evening, scored technically from “first base,” but was actually about two steps from third with a lead for the ages.
The Phillies got two runners on in the sixth, but failed to score - Nolasco was rolling through the lineup at this point, now spotted a lead of his own. Nola came back out for the bottom of the inning, and an eight-pitch battle with stubborn Martin Maldonado ensued that didn’t help matters. With a runner on first base, everyone seemed to understand we’d be settling for six strong from Nola with each fouling off of his pitches. Fine. Maldonado struck out and Nola left the game down 2-1. Still manageable.
But not for long.
Mark Leiter, Jr. was the first man out of the gate and the Angels got to him immediately with a pair of singles and a three-run Pujols bomb. Trout, obviously discussed at length prior to the game, spent tonight setting the table for Pujols, who feasted on any mistake he could find, and despite striking out looking in his first at-bat on a nasty Nola offering, Pujols was responsible for all five Angels runs at this point.
The Angels made a bunch of defensive changes to secure a 1-2-3 eighth and Drew Anderson’s 2017 debut from the Phillies pen as a fresh arm saw two more Angels sneak across the plate; one on a throwing error by Andrew Knapp during a steal attempt, the other on a sacrifice fly.
It rained for what historians called “the first time ever,” prior to the game, sending the SoCal residents into hysterics, and forcing the grounds crew to bring the “tarp” (Am I pronouncing that correctly?) out of storage. Perhaps it was a sign that the home team would bring an end to the Phillies’ recent success.
But seeing as tonight also saw the Angels hand out free Mike Trout socks, perhaps that is a sign that things are never all bad. And hey, Drew Anderson struck out Trout in his first appearance. That’s also pretty good, considering where his first pitch went.