FOX Sports MLB Analyst
PHILADELPHIA — If this was Aaron Nola’s last home start in red pinstripes, what a farewell it was.
Nola, the longest-tenured member of the Philadelphia Phillies, the longest-tenured pitcher in any MLB postseason, actually delivered the postseason performance of his career on Tuesday night. In Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, the bushy-haired 30-year-old allowed just three hits in six scoreless innings while striking out seven Arizona Diamondbacks along the way. In a match which, despite the final gap, remained close and tense during the first six rounds, Nola maintained control of his club.
His performance – not to mention another hail of long balls from Philadelphia’s fully functioning offense – pushed the home team to a definitive 10-0 victory. A defensive error by Trea Turner on the very first batter of the game couldn’t shake the still-calm Nola, who retired the next two batters before ending the frame on a Christian Walker pop-up.
Turner redeemed himself almost immediately with a solo home run. Kyle Schwarber crushed a pair himself. Those three bombs knocked out Merrill Kelly before the Phillies obliterated the Arizona bullpen for six more runs between the sixth and seventh innings. What was briefly a pitchers’ duel turned into a blowout. This series now heads west, with the defending NL champions the heavy favorites to repeat the feat.
But the night really belonged to Nola, who will become a free agent for the first time in his career at the end of the season. His future in town is murky; those in the know see his return as a draw. If this series ends in Arizona, Nola won’t pitch until the World Series. And with Texas also up 2-0 over Houston in the ALCS, a Rangers-Phillies Fall Classic would begin in the Lone Star State, with Nola currently lined up to start on the road only.
That’s a lot of qualifiers, of course. But there’s a legitimate chance that Nola just made his 120th and final start at Citizens Bank Park with the Phillie. Only Cole Hamels, with whom Nola shared a locker room for just 10 days, has more in the stadium’s 20-year history. The last nine seasons have been a roller coaster ride for Nola, who has worked hard through years of mind-blowing rebuilding in order to reach that noisy October promised land.
A lot has changed with the veteran right-hander over the years.
He made his debut in July 2015, just 13 months after the Phillies selected him seventh overall out of LSU. At the time, the 22-year-old had a remarkably thick Louisiana accent. It wasn’t quite the Ben MacDonald and James Carville-style dragging bayou you’ll find south of Interstate 10, but a regional identifier nonetheless. Nearly a decade in the Northeast has attenuated this streak to a slight southern tint.
“When Aaron showed up at LSU, he was incredibly Louisiana,” retired college coaching legend Paul Manieri told FOX Sports.
Aaron Nola records 7 Ks in six innings in Phillies’ 10-0 win over D-backs
While that’s no longer the case as much — Nola has a fancy and expensive pour-over coffee system in his locker — not much has changed about the Phillies pitcher. When he arrived on campus in 2012, Manieri saw a mature, polished pitcher with a slow heart rate well beyond his years. This is the same competitor Nola remains today.
“I never had to keep him. He was never emotionally distorted,” Manieri, 66, recalled. “When you talk to him one-on-one, you feel a quiet confidence. It’s not an act.
“The only word I would use to describe him is unflappable.”
Phillies crush three home runs in 10-0 win over D-backs
Nola showed that exact energy against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night. As Arizona threatened in the fourth inning, trailing only 2-0 at the time, Nola hardly flinched, abandoning Lourdes Gurriel Jr. on a grounder too short. Two frames later, with the dangerous Walker and a runner on second, Nola retired the slugger with a curve on the sixth pitch of the bat.
As the crowd erupted, cheering for another scoreless round, Nola remained emotionally impassive. There was no punch, no “LET’S GO!” » no sign of excitement. He simply walked quietly, head down, to the Phillies dugout.
The same path he had traveled so many times before.
Jake Mintzthe stronger half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He played college baseball, poorly at first, then very well, very briefly. Jake lives in New York where he coaches Little League and rides his bike, sometimes at the same time. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.
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