In a season replete with lowlights for the Phillies, Aaron Nola has reliably produced highlight after highlight. But he struggled in his last start and saw today’s late afternoon start go from good with middling results to awful in his last five minutes on the mound. Undoubtedly, he is disappointed to have wasted some excellent performances in this first leg of today’s doubleheader. And I feel nauseous that he has to bear this burden, given how much he’s contributed to this team over the last few months. On another team, perhaps a teammate could have picked him up on a day when he was good but not transcendent.
Let’s begin at the end. On a hot day in Philadelphia, Nola entered the seventh inning around 90 pitches, facing the bottom of the Marlins’ order. The score was tied at threes in a seesaw affair. Nola had recorded seven Ks and just one walk while working around a lot of extra base hits. Despite the heat and the high rate of hard contact the Marlins had made throughout the game, Mackanin decided to ride his ace for one last inning.
That decision is reasonable. What was unreasonable was not to be ready to lift him as soon as he got into trouble. As it turned out, Nola got into trouble from the get, walking the leadoff hitter and allowing a single to the next. With no one out and two on, Nola now faced a high-pressure, high-leverage situation, nearing 100 pitches on a day when the heat exhausts players more rapidly. He had no room for error and, most likely, little left in the tank to help him avoid the very slight errors that make the difference between painting the black and serving meatballs. When Ichiro Suzuki stepped in to pinch hit for Marlins’ starter Dan Straily, Mackanin should have had a lefty ready to face him.
Instead, he left Nola in and Suzuki uncoiled on a fastball, launching it into the Phillies bullpen. The score was 6-3 and everyone watching could see that Nola was at the end of his rope. So, of course, Mackanin left him in still. After Dee Gordon grounded out, Giancarlo Stanton took a casual inside out swing on a dead red fastball and drove it straightaway into the right field seats. 7-3 and finally Mackanin was convinced that Nola needed relief.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking that between Nola and the bullpen, Nola was the better option. After all, the Marlins scored five more runs on two more homers after Nola left the game. But, setting aside whether Nola was the best option among bad options going into the 7th (he wasn’t), overworking Nola there is bad for his arm and bad for his psyche. In a game where he battled his command a bit and still managed good-not-great results, he deserved a better final outcome. On a good team, he won’t be expected to get difficult outs when he’s gassed. Why instill that expectation in him when he’s on a bad team?
The game was not without its charms. We were treated early to another #HOSBOMB (h/t @LONGDRIVE), this one rather unique. Rhys Hoskins lined a shot to straightaway centerfield that hit the top of the wall padding, ricocheted onto the shrubbery, and rebounded back onto the field. Initially, the ball was ruled in play and Hoskins stood on second with an RBI double. But the umps immediately reviewed the replay and quickly corrected the call. I don’t remember any ball bouncing off the bushes and back into play like that and certainly not after hitting the padding and losing some of its momentum.
Hoskins’s homer gave the Phillies a 2-1 lead and a rejoinder to the Marlins’ first inning run. Nola would give that lead back immediately and then fall behind 3-2 in the middle innings. But Cameron Rupp, continuing his improbable bid to keep his job, ripped a dinger into the leftfield stands in the following half-inning. That set the stage for the ultimate unraveling that started in the 7th. The game would descend into a home run derby as the two teams hit a total of seven dingers over the last three innings. But the Phillies never managed to score as many runs as the Marlins had after seven.
Of note: Nick Williams walked twice more, bringing his walk rate to over 7% in 180 PAs. I’d be shocked if he sustained this level of free passes long term because he hasn’t done it above A ball yet. But I’ll happily be shocked. Please shock me, Nick, and smile at me while you do it.