Watching the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader on SNY, a stomach-turning graphic came onscreen: since 2012, the Mets had gone 42-18 at Citizens Bank Park. Even considering how bad the Phils have been over most of that period, and that the Mets had a pennant winner and another playoff team in there, that’s one ugly number—the long-term analogue to the grotesquerie of that 24-4 throttling in the first game.
Then again, the Phillies didn’t have an ace for most of that time. They’ve got one now, as Aaron Nola reminded everyone again on Friday night. The all-star tossed seven scintillating innings, holding the Mets to three hits and a run while striking out 11 to lead the way in the Phils’ 4-2 win and notch his 14th win of the season. It was one more masterpiece in a season that’s seen the 25 year old reach rare heights:
How good has Aaron Nola been this season? Nola's 2.24 ERA is the lowest by a Phillies SP through 25 starts since Chris Short in 1964 (a 1.97 ERA), according to Elias. Yes, even better than Halladay in his 2010 Cy Young season.— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) August 18, 2018
When Nola’s struggled this year, it’s generally been in the first inning. Not tonight, as he struck out the side to start the game, generating the first four of 21 swings and misses on the night. He barely had time to take a seat in the dugout before getting staked to a 3-0 lead against Mets mound monster Noah Syndergaard, who came into the game with a career 4-1 mark and 2.06 ERA in seven starts against the Phils. But tonight, Cesar Hernandez singled, Rhys Hoskins walked, and ex-Met Asdrubal Cabrera smacked the first pitch he saw for a double, scoring Hernandez. Nick Williams offered at the next pitch for a single to bring home Hoskins, and Cabrera scored on the following pitch when Carlos Santana hit into a double play.
Despite that early burst of aggression, the Phillies worked Thor all night. Though he only allowed one more run, on a Roman Quinn triple followed by a Jorge Alfaro single, he exited with two outs in the sixth having thrown 115 pitches. In the meantime, the Phils stole five bases, including Alfaro’s first two of the season, Maikel Franco’s first of the year, Santana’s second, and Hernandez’s team-high 16th. As a team, the Phils had stolen just 46 bags all year before tonight.
Nola mostly did the rest. He didn’t allow a hit until the fourth, when Jeff McNeil and Austin Jackson started the inning with back to back singles to put men on first and third with no outs. McNeil eventually scored on a Todd Frazier sac fly, but no further damage was done. Nola escaped more trouble in the fifth after starting the frame by hitting Jose Bautista and walking Kevin Plawecki. He went to a full count on Syndergaard before getting the strikeout, then recovered with a strikeout and groundout.
The Phillies’ usually reliable bullpen made things moderately interesting in the eighth, when Victor Arano surrendered a two-out run on a McNeil pop fly double and a Jackson single. But Adam Morgan came on to get Michael Comforto on a called third strike to end the inning, and Pat Neshek closed things out in the ninth to earn his third save of the year. With the Braves trailing by six runs late in their game, the Phils were in position to move back within a half-game of the NL East lead.
The series continues Saturday afternoon with Jake Arrieta facing Jacob deGrom.