BOSTON -- Beginning on Friday night, the Phillies will play 36 games in 39 days, a full-on sprint to the end of the season ... or to October.
Either way, Aaron Nola will start as many as eight of those games.
If it wasn't already clear, it certainly is now: The Phillies' best pitching strategy is to put the ball in Nola's hand as often as possible. It must have been tempting, then, to let the ace go back out for the eighth inning with a one-run lead Tuesday night here at Fenway Park, even though he had already thrown 104 pitches and all but muted a strong, deep Boston Red Sox lineup.
"I did consider it," manager Gabe Kapler said, chuckling. "It was a really, really great performance, and we wanted to hold on to that great performance. It was the right time."
So, Kapler trusted his patchwork bullpen, specifically Jose Alvarez and Mike Morin. And wouldn’t you know it, they delivered before closer Hector Neris tossed a scoreless ninth inning -- with considerable assists to shortstop Jean Segura -- in a 3-2 cuticle-chomper in the opener of a five-game road trip that is critical to the Phillies' survival in the National League wild-card bottleneck.
"It was big," Nola said. "[The Red Sox] were World Series champs last year. In an environment like this, in Fenway, it's historic, it's loud, it's live. You get to play here toward the end of the year, it's good for the team."
If Nola was typically splendid in allowing little more than Jackie Bradley’s two-run homer and striking out seven batters in his second sensational start at Fenway in 12 months, Morin was a revelation.
Acquired in a cash trade with the Minnesota Twins on July 20, he promised Kapler in their first meeting that he was a reliever the manager could believe in. Sure enough, he has allowed only two baserunners in his last 6 2/3 innings. Eight of his last 11 appearances have been hitless.
"At one point early, he said, 'I'm going to be a guy for you before the end of the season,'" Kapler said. "It didn't take long. He's really established himself as our highest-leverage right-handed reliever not named Hector Neris."
This time, Morin inherited a one-on, one-out situation from Alvarez and was facing reigning American League MVP Mookie Betts and slugging Rafael Devers, two hitters with whom he was familiar.
"We played the Red Sox when I was in Minnesota before I got over here," Morin said. "Mookie hit a homer off me on a sinker down and in, and Devers crushed a changeup for a single off me. So, I wanted to do the opposite of what I did last time."
Consider it done. Morin struck out Betts on three pitches, the last being an elevated fastball. He stayed away from his changeup against Devers and threw a slider that was hit on a line to center fielder Adam Haseley.
"What a cool experience, right?" Morin said.
In the ninth, Neris gave up a leadoff double to Xander Bogaerts. But when Bogaerts inexplicably broke for third base on a grounder to short, Segura alertly threw to third base to cut him down. Segura wasn’t finished, either. He snared Andrew Benintendi’s line drive into the shift, then threw to first to double off pinch-running Chris Owings to end the game.
“Segura was on top of his game in that inning,” Kapler said. “Real quick reactions and certainly good positioning by [infield coach] Bobby [Dickerson]. Did a good job there.”
Otherwise, the night belonged to Nola, who was staked to a 3-0 lead in the first inning before the offense was completely shut down. The Phillies didn't have a hit after the fourth inning.
But Nola was brilliant, particularly in the sixth inning. After Betts reached on a leadoff single and stole second base, Nola struck out Devers on a fastball that crackled at 94 mph, got Bogaerts to fly out on a curveball and got J.D. Martinez to groundout on another breaking ball.
"Pretty standard," said Rhys Hoskins. "I don't know why anybody's surprised."
Said Kapler: "Yeah, he's so tough. Man, is he resilient? He had the leadoff runner [on base] in four out of his seven innings and just buckled down and was able to limit damage."
Add it to the ever-growing list of dominant starts that has the Phillies believing Nola can hold up to the rigors of being an ace in a pennant race. Kapler said the Phillies want Nola to pitch every five days, regardless of off days, which would line him up to face the New York Mets and Washington Nationals once apiece, the Atlanta Braves twice, and the Miami Marlins in the regular-season finale.
The idea: Carry the Phillies into October for the first time since 2011.