Remember when I said this series might be the Nationals’ last stand, and then their management pretty much threw in the towel and conceded the season? Remember how we thought that would have demoralized the Nationals, and these games would be relatively easy for the Phillies?
As it turned out, having their management give up on them might have lit a fire under the Nationals’ players, causing them to play with a renewed sense of energy the past two days. In consecutive games, they came back from 4-1 deficits to hand the Phillies defeats that ranged from dispiriting to soul crushing.
On Thursday, the Nationals had a chance to complete the sweep that would insert them right back into the race and cause great harm to the Phillies’ chances. The Nats had Max Scherzer on the mound, and that’s generally a good formula for victory. Since arriving in Washington in 2015, Scherzer has been arguably the best pitcher in the league, and looked to be the favorite to win his third straight Cy Young Award this season.
Only one thing stood in the way of a Nationals sweep: Aaron Nola. The Phillies’ ace is having a pretty darned good season of his own, and was the only reason that Phillies fans thought they even had a prayer of salvaging a game in this series.
Scherzer pitched well, although this wasn’t his most dominating outing of the season. He walked four batters, and in the fifth inning, the Phillies had runners on second and third. Unfortunately, as he often does, Scherzer pitched his way out of trouble.
After six scoreless innings, the Phillies were finally able to score, and the runs came thanks to an unlikely source. Odubel Herrera has been mired in a lengthy slump, and more than a few people thought sitting him down for a few days might be a good idea. It was a good idea that Gabe Kapler didn’t listen to them today, since with one man on in the seventh, he did this:
The resurrection of Odubel Herrera. pic.twitter.com/oIHsqJzsln— BWanksCB (@BWCrossingBroad) August 23, 2018
Despite Herrera’s shot, only allowing two runs in seven innings was a fine showing by Scherzer. Most games, that’s good enough to win. It’s too bad for him that on Thursday afternoon, his counterpart was even better.
Nola mowed through the Nationals lineup, recording ten strikeouts in his eight innings. He wasn’t in much trouble until the eighth when the Nats got two men aboard (thanks to a VERY questionable ball four call) and had to face down Bryce Harper. It was an epic battle between one of the league’s best pitchers and hitters, with the game - and perhaps the season - on the line.
Here’s how it ended:
Aaron Nola had Bryce Harper waving in a similar fashion to Max Scherzer waving goodbye to his standing above Nola in the Cy Young Award race. #BeBold pic.twitter.com/NdqtYhONiX— Marshall Harris (@mharrisonair) August 23, 2018
It was possible that Kapler would send Nola out to finish the game, but after a tough eighth inning, he chose to have Pat Neshek finish the Nats off. Neshek was up to the task and the Phillies came away with perhaps their biggest win of the season.
Today’s performance will likely earn Aaron Nola a few Cy Young Award votes, and it might put him right in the middle of the MVP discussion as well. All season long, when the Phillies have needed an ace-like performance, Nola has come through. It’s not an understatement to say that they wouldn’t be anywhere near playoff contention without him.