MIAMI -- The Phillies had Aaron Nola on the mound, a two-run lead, and just 12 outs left to tackle before they could board a flight home on Sunday with a series win and a successful road trip completed. They had been embarrassed by the Marlins on Friday but recovered Saturday, and another win felt near.
Nola, just as he has for most of the last two months, had made it look so easy for five innings at Marlins Park and cruised through Miami’s last-place lineup with ease. Just as a win was close, it was stripped away.
The Marlins tagged Nola for three runs in the sixth inning and sent the Phillies home with a 3-2 loss. The Phillies are so desperate for wins as they try to climb the wild-card standings that a wasted Nola start and a wasted Marlins series is doubly painful.
The Phillies lost two of three to the Marlins and wasted the momentum they carried here from a two-game sweep at Fenway Park.
“Very frustrating,” first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. "You often hear, most of the time you’re playing against yourself, right? If we play our game, we obviously can beat any team. We swept the Cubs. We swept the Red Sox on the road. Yeah, it’s tough. This is just a different place to play here. Credit to those guys. They came up with some big hits in some big situations off Nols.”
The Marlins had lost six straight games before the Phillies arrived. A three-game series at Marlins Park followed by three games at home against the downtrodden Pirates would be a great chance for the Phillies to heat up before September. Instead, they started the winnable stretch with a mighty stumble.
If the Phillies were challenged by the Marlins, then they will surely be tested next month when they play teams like the Nationals, Mets, Red Sox, Braves, and Indians. This was supposed to have been the easy part.
“Whatever the reason, we have to find a way to win these baseball games,” manager Gabe Kapler said.
Bryan Holaday started Miami’s sixth-inning rally with a one-out double to center. Nola worked a 2-2 count against Curtis Granderson but walked him. Jon Berti then roped an RBI single and Starlin Castro drove a two-run double to left-center field.
“Sometimes even the best pitchers lose command, and that’s enough,” Kapler said.
Nola said he struggled to find a feel for his fastball, which caused him to rely more on his breaking pitches as the game waned on. The Marlins were not fooled. That would be all the damage Nola allowed, but it was enough to beat the Phillies after their offense went silent. He pitched seven innings, allowing three runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and just one walk. One bad inning ruined a strong start.
“I mean, that’s baseball. You can take two from Boston and lose the series to these guys,” Nola said. “It could’ve easily been the other way around, but it’s baseball.”
The Phillies were reminded yet again, that nothing has come easy this season for them against the Marlins, who are 47-82. They blew a seven-run lead on Friday night and have lost nine of their 16 games against Miami. They will need to sweep the Marlins in the season’s final series if they are to finish with a winning record this year against them.
Cesar Hernandez singled in the sixth inning, but his hit off the right-field wall could have been a double if he had run hard to first base. A batter later, Hoskins homered to take Hernandez off the hook. Hernandez heard about his lack of hustle when he returned to the dugout, but he was not removed from the game.
Hoskins said Hernandez understood what he did wrong. And Hernandez might have been even happier to see Hoskins’ homer than Hoskins, who had gone 84 straight plate appearances without homering. It’s a swing the Phillies hope can snap Hoskins from a funk.
“The word hope – I don’t like saying it,” Hoskins said. “Obviously, I hope, sure, but no one ever said it’s going to be easy. I’m always going to have to work for it. Everyone in this room is always going to have to work for it. So I’ll take that swing – it felt repeatable. That’s what it’s all about. Being able to repeat, whether it’s on the mound, in the box or on the field.”
It was enough to give the Phillies a lead with Nola on the mound and a critical game leading into the final stages. Hernandez’ hustle was a bad look, but they would soon be leaving Miami with a series win. It was the type of win that could help the Phillies finish August on a roll. At least, that’s how it felt at the time. Instead, another loss was approaching.