DENVER - The fastball slipped from Aaron Nola’s hand on Saturday night, tailed inside, and smacked the arm of Rockies batter Mark Reynolds.
It was only the third inning of Saturday’s 8-5 win at Coors Field but it was difficult then - as the Rockies loaded the bases with one out - to imagine that this would be the night for Nola to perhaps right his season. He had already allowed three runs, his command was off, his curveball was flat, and the Rockies were hitting him hard.
- Phillies beat Rockies behind Phil Gosselin’s timely double, Bryce Harper’s insurance home run as Aaron Nola picks up a win
- Phillies place Jean Segura, Scott Kingery, Victor Arano on injured list, opening up chance for Malvern Prep grad Phil Gosselin
- Phillies fall to Rockies on Charlie Blackmon’s walk-off home run, lose Scott Kingery and Andrew McCutchen to injuries
Now the bases were loaded.
Nola, up against the ropes, escaped. He froze the next batter, Raimel Tapia, with a knee-buckling curveball. He then used a changeup to whiff Garrett Hampson. All it took Saturday for Nola to find himself was a bit of adversity. He pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowed three runs on nine hits, and struck out nine with one walk. Saturday night, Nola’s fifth start of the season, felt like something for the Phillies’ ace to build off.
“I just had to slow my mind down, slow the game down,” Nola said. "There was no other way to do it. "
He finished strong as seven of his nine strikeouts came after he loaded the bases in the third inning. Nola’s curveball suddenly regained its signature break and his fastball sharpened. His first pitch of the game became a homer to right field. His first pitch of the second inning was an inside-the-park homer. It was a rough start, but the finish proved better.
“That’s just who he is. He always stays calm in every situation,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “Even when things aren’t going right for him, he’s the same even-keeled pitcher. When he gets in those situations, he almost gets better. You always feel comforting with a guy like that on the mound.”
Phil Gosselin, inserted into the lineup after Jean Segura and Scott Kingery were placed on the injured list, hit a three-run double off the right-field wall to put the Phillies ahead by a run in the fourth. The Phillies need Gosselin, who grew up in West Chester and attended Malvern Prep, to help fortify their infield as they wait at least a week for Segura to return. He did his job in start No. 1.
“I’ve been up with the bases loaded a lot for the Phillies,” Gosselin said. “It was just in my backyard as a kid and it didn’t really count. It felt good to come through.”
And what would that kid in the Chester County backyard think of what Gosselin did in Coors Field for his hometown team?
“He would think it was all a dream, to be honest,” Gosselin said. “It was always a goal of me. I never thought I was that great. I never thought I’d be in the big leagues, if I’m being honest. It was one of those pinch-yourself kind of moment.”
Gosselin gave the Phillies the lead and Bryce Harper provided some protection with a three-run homer with two outs in the seventh to give the bullpen a four-run lead. It was Harper’s second homer this year against a lefthanded reliever as he is 7 for 18 this year against lefthanded pitchers with four extra-base hits.
“The way he’s performed against left-handed pitching thus far this season has been especially impressive,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We know that every team is going to bring in their toughest left-hander to face Bryce in the biggest moments. If he’s swinging the bat well against those guys, what do you do if you’re the opposition? You leave the righty in? That’s not a good recipe for success.”
Harper’s insurance runs proved valuable. Adam Morgan earned the last out of the sixth and Seranthony Dominguez handled the seventh. But Pat Neshek allowed two runs in the eighth and recorded just one out. Hector Neris then nearly gave up a tying two-run homer to Trevor Story but the pitch missed the foul pole by a couple of inches. Neris retired Story to end the eighth, Andrew McCutchen homered in the top of the ninth to provide some more room to breath, and Neris closed out the win.
Harper has reached base in all 20 games this season. It is the second straight year the Phillies had a player begin the season with a 20-game on-base streak. Odubel Herrera began last year by reaching base in the first 41 games. The only other time that happened in consecutive seasons was Gary Maddox in 1976 and Richie Hebner in 1977.
“I think he’s stayed on the ball really well. He’s let the ball travel very well,” Kapler said of Harper’s success against lefties. “He’s actually been outwardly confident about facing lefties for quite some time. It didn’t start, like, in the last week or 10 days. He’s been talking about it since spring training.”
Nola had just one swing and miss on the 39 pitches he threw before loading the bases in the third inning. He would throw 58 more pitches and generate eight empty swings. Nola, after spending the previous four days dissecting his starts, seemed to turn a corner. He gained momentum as the night rolled on and began the sixth inning by striking out Drew Butera on a curveball. He then struck out pinch-hitter Pat Valaika with another curveball.
For the Phillies, that was enough. Nola had thrown 97 pitches. Kapler came to the mound, took the ball, and slapped his pitcher on the back. Nola left the mound Saturday night with a start to build off. And that was hard to imagine just three innings earlier.