Mr. Red October Aaron Nola pitches another gem under the bright lights


He's already shaken the perception that he can't win important games late in the year.

Maybe all Aaron Nola needed was to actually get to October.

In front of a sold-out, hyped-up crowd of 45,538 that hadn't seen live playoff baseball in South Philly in 11 years, Nola shut the Braves down in a 9-1 Phillies win.

It swung the best-of-five into the Phils' favor. They lead the series 2-1 and can close it out at home Saturday afternoon.

"It was awesome," Nola said postgame. "It's been a while since we've been in the playoffs here, obviously, and to see the fans like what they were tonight is awesome. The hitters, what they did tonight as well, just sparked it up even more."

It was fitting that Nola and Rhys Hoskins, who hit a three-run homer in a six-run third inning, led the way. Nola is the longest-tenured Phillies pitcher and Hoskins is their longest-tenured position player.

"We've been on some teams that lost a lot and kept inching our way up," Nola said. "Every spring training, the team's gotten better. The guys have gotten closer as a group. And we finally made that push this year. It's been fun so far. But we've got tomorrow to take care of."

Nola allowed just an unearned run over six innings. He's gone 20⅓ straight innings without allowing an earned run and all 61 of those outs have come in high-pressure situations.

Nola carried a perfect game into the seventh inning of the Phillies' playoff clincher in Houston in Game 160 on October 3.

He pitched 6⅔ more shutout innings on October 8 in Game 2 of the wild-card series against the Cardinals.

He followed it up Friday with six strong against the Braves.

"I don't think you can say enough about it, really," manager Rob Thomson said. "His stuff, his makeup, his toughness, his resiliency, he's done it all. And I thought his stuff was really good tonight. I thought that his curveball tonight, especially, was as good as I've seen it this year. He's just pitched extremely well for us."

Things could have played out differently if Nola didn't bear down to retire Austin Riley and Travis d'Arnaud with two men aboard in the top of the first. Riley grounded out to third base on the first pitch and d'Arnaud tapped out back to the mound. 

The Braves' next legitimate scoring opportunity came in the fourth inning after they already trailed by six runs. They stranded a one-out double.

Nola's night might have been even better if not for poor defense behind him in the first, third and sixth innings. Alec Bohm missed a ball off the bat of Ronald Acuña Jr. to begin the game. It went down as a hit but could have just as easily been ruled an error as Bohm simply missed the ball.

Bohm committed another error on Acuña with one out in the third, fielding the ball but throwing it into the ground.

The most impactful defensive miscue by the Phillies came in the sixth when Hoskins dropped a throw to first base that would have been an inning-ending double play. D'Arnaud would have been out but Hoskins couldn't make the routine catch. Nola had to throw five more pitches and it cost the Phillies a run after Michael Harris II singled, but it could have been much worse.

Beating Riley was a big part of Nola's night. The Braves' stud third baseman entered 18 for 42 (.429) with five doubles and three homers off of him. He went 0 for 3 against Nola Friday and stranded four baserunners.

Nola's night ended after Orlando Arcia singled to begin the seventh. Thomson lifted him for lefty Jose Alvarado and Alvarado did his job, striking out William Contreras and Acuña before Dansby Swanson lined out to end the inning. Brad Hand and Connor Brogdon followed with scoreless innings to close it out.

"I'm not surprised," Hoskins said of Nola's third straight gem. "I've seen this guy go about his work on the day that he pitches and on the days that he doesn't pitch for five, six straight years and nobody's as consistent as Aaron Nola. He puts himself in the best position to succeed once he toes the rubber.

"And I think you've seen this month, in October, with the clincher in Houston and in St. Louis and now tonight, there's no moment too big for him. He's as good a competitor as anybody.

"Obviously extremely happy for him and proud of him that he's able to put us in a position to win. But I don't think anybody in that clubhouse is surprised."

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