Nola brilliant as Phils earn series split in Atlanta before another Mets test


ATLANTA —  A couple of long droughts ended for the Phillies on Thursday night.

J.T. Realmuto smacked his first home run since May 3 and Aaron Nola pitched brilliantly for his first win since opening day as the Phillies closed out a four-gamer against the Atlanta Braves with a 4-1 road victory.

The win gave the Phillies a series split with the Braves. Both teams are 21-24 and 7 ½ games behind the NL East-leading New York Mets. The Phils open a three-game series against the Mets in New York on Friday night.

“It’s huge,” manager Joe Girardi said of the split. “This is a tough place to play. They’re the defending World Champions. They’re a very good team. We needed it. We need to continue to play better on the road. Now we’re going to New York. Both these teams are in our division. We need to take care of business.”

The Phils are 10-11 on the road. Lefty Bailey Falter will come up from Triple A to start Friday night’s game in New York. Zach Eflin and Zack Wheeler will pitch Saturday and Sunday night, respectively.

The Phillies and Mets have already played nine times this season, with the Mets winning six.

Thursday’s win, which prevented the Phillies from falling a season-high five games under .500, came after they played sloppy ball on Tuesday and Wednesday night and saw their bullpen hit hard in both games.

Nola limited the bullpen’s exposure with a gem —  8 1/3 innings of one-run, walk-free ball. He scattered five hits and struck out 10. The Phillies had lost eight straight starts with Nola on the mound before this one.

“He pitched an awesome game,” Girardi said. “He kept his pitch count down, didn’t really get in much trouble. He was great.”

Nola got offensive support from his batterymate, Realmuto, who homered in the third inning, and center fielder Odubel Herrera, who had a huge two-run double with two outs in the top of the seventh to extend the Phillies’ lead to three runs.

Kyle Schwarber went just 1 for 11 in the four-game series, but he contributed to the Phillies’ rally in the seventh by drawing a two-out walk against Braves’ starter Kyle Wright. Wright then hit Realmuto with a pitch and Atlanta manager Brian Snitker brought in lefty Will Smith with Herrera due up. Herrera greeted Smith with a first-pitch double to score two.

The Phils tacked on a run in the eighth when Nick Castellanos doubled home Bryce Harper. The double by Castellanos was just his second extra-base hit in a 12-game span, so there was another drought eased.

The four runs must have seemed like an explosion to Nola, who entered the game with 64 strikeouts, second most in the NL, and a 0.994 WHIP, but the ninth-worst run support in the league. The Phillies had scored zero runs while Nola was in the game in four of his nine starts entering the contest.

“He’s been victimized by bad luck probably as much as any pitcher we have,” Girardi said. 

Not all of Nola’s problems this season were for a lack of run support. Mistakes over the plate and an inability to put hitters away with two strikes and two outs has been a bugaboo since last season and it was in his previous outing against the Dodgers when he gave up three two-out runs on a homer and a two-run double. Both hits came on full-count pitches.

If Nola made any mistakes Thursday night, they were hard to decipher and even harder for the Braves to hit. He used his sinker and curveball very effectively. He generated 15 swings and misses, 10 on his curveball.

“The sinker felt good, better than usual,” Nola said. “The curveball got better as the game went on."

“I can’t say enough about how he threw the ball,” Realmuto said. “He got early outs, he kept the ball down and gave the ‘pen a rest. He really had his sinker going, off the plate and running it back to righties.”

As for the long stretch between wins, Nola said, “That’s baseball. It’s going to happen. I just want to go deep, save the bullpen and put up as many zeroes as I can, and whatever happens, happens.”

What happened Thursday night was Nola took a shutout into the ninth and got the Phillies an important win. He left the game at 109 pitches after giving up a one-out double to Matt Olson in the ninth. Olson eventually scored on a wild pitch by Corey Knebel, who got the final two outs to lock down the win.

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