Blame it on the rain.
With the Phillies riding their longest winning streak in 10 years, the reigning World Series champion Dodgers in town, and Aaron Nola locked in a scoreless stalemate with familiar rival Max Scherzer, a sudden and torrential thunderstorm struck Citizens Bank Park in the bottom of the fourth inning Tuesday night. When play finally resumed 104 minutes later, the game fell to the underbelly of both bullpens.
And, well, let’s just say that pitching depth isn’t the Phillies’ organizational strength.
The Dodgers broke through for a run against rookie reliever J.D. Hammer in the fifth inning, then scored three in the sixth against starter-turned-long-man Matt Moore and emerged with a 5-0 victory that wasn’t as close as it appeared. The Phillies got outhit 12-6, matched their season-high with 15 strikeouts, and weren’t in position to use any of their four best relievers over the final five innings.
Add it up, and the Phillies had their eight-game winning streak snapped. Their lead in the NL East was shaved to one game, too, because the Atlanta Braves won at home, 3-2 over the Cincinnati Reds.
“Honestly, it kind of surprised me,” Nola said of the downpour. “I looked at the forecast early in the day and didn’t see much of anything. It’s tough, man. You can’t control it. It happens in the Northeast in the summer.”
Nola dominated for four innings. He struck out seven of the first nine batters, gave up only a leadoff single to Corey Seager in the second inning, and inspired confidence that his five-run dud in Washington last week was the outlier in a recent stretch of better starts.
As the delay persisted, Nola simulated two innings in the batting tunnel to keep his arm loose. But everyone agreed the interruption was too long for him (or Scherzer on the Dodgers’ side, for that matter) to go back out.
“They both were really good,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s probably as good a stuff as Aaron’s had all year long. It’s frustrating, but it’s Mother Nature and there’s not much you can do about it.”
Making matters worse, the Phillies didn’t have their optimal bullpen. Sam Coonrod (forearm), Connor Brogdon (elbow), and lefty Bailey Falter (COVID-19) are on the injured list, leaving less experienced or desirable options to come into the game.
Hammer, back on the 40-man roster after being removed last year, was making his 28th career major-league appearance and eighth this season. He gave up an ice-breaking solo homer to Seager in the fifth inning. Moore has been yo-yoed between the rotation and the bullpen. He allowed Trea Turner’s leadoff double, an RBI single to Will Smith, and a double to Seager.
With a two-run deficit, the Phillies turned to Enyel De Los Santos (30 career major-league appearances), who gave up a two-run single to AJ Pollock. From there, lefty Damon Jones made his major-league debut in the eighth inning. Mauricio Llovera (six career appearances) came in behind Jones and gave up a second-deck homer to Max Muncy, the fourth time in a span of six batters over two appearances that he was taken deep.
The offense never stirred either. Not against Scherzer or a half-dozen Dodgers relievers.
The Phillies didn’t have an extra-base hit and didn’t advance a runner to third base. Bryce Harper struck out three times, all with a runner on base; J.T. Realmuto fanned twice.
The fourth matchup of Nola and Scherzer since 2018 — and fifth overall — lived up to the billing, if only for 3½ innings.
While Scherzer held the Phillies to three hits (all singles) and racked up six strikeouts, Nola flummoxed the Dodgers. He threw only 51 pitches but got 13 swings and misses, including six with his curveball. The breaking pitch is often a bellwether for Nola. He threw it 14 times and got the Dodgers to swing at it 10 times.
The way it was going, it seemed destined to be a worthy successor to many of their other duels, perhaps even Aug. 23, 2018. Scherzer, then with Washington, allowed two runs on two hits and struck out 10 batters in seven innings. But he was outdueled by Nola, who gave up five hits and one walk and struck out nine in eight scoreless innings in a 2-0 Phillies victory at Nationals Park.
Girardi said before the game that the Phillies are undecided on a fifth starter after Kyle Gibson goes Wednesday night, Ranger Suarez likely goes Thursday, and Zack Wheeler starts Friday night. Chase Anderson, who was filling the fifth spot in the rotation, isn’t eligible to come off the injured list until at least Sunday.
Could Nola be an option on short rest after throwing only 51 pitches?
“That’s something we’ve got to talk about,” Girardi said. “I don’t know what I’ll do there. He still threw underneath a couple times, so his pitch count was probably higher than what we would consider 51.”
Credit the save to ...
The grounds crew moved at warp speed to pull the tarp and cover the field in the fourth inning. If not for their hustle, the infield may not have been playable when the storm finally passed considering the suddenness and the intensity with which it arrived.