The Philadelphia Phillies lost the opener of a four game series to the division rival Miami Marlins in extra innings on Monday night.
The Phillies took a 2-0 lead into the top of the 9th, turned the game over to their usually reliable closer, watched him blow it, then lost in extra innings by a 3-2 score to the visiting Miami Marlins.
The opener of a four game series at Citizens Bank Park turned out to be a fantastic pitching duel between the power of Marlins’ starter Jose Fernandez and the precision of Phillies’ righty Aaron Nola.
Fernandez struck out 14 batters, walked two, and allowed just four hits over 6.1 innings. He was undone by what happens to most pitchers in high strikeout games these days – pitch count.
The Marlins ace was removed after throwing 104 pitches, just 65 of those for strikes. He allowed just two runs, one on some base running hustle, and the other on a powerful long ball.
The first run scored in the bottom of the 1st inning thanks to some Odubel Herrera hustle. The Phils’ All-Star led off with a double. Then when Peter Bourjos struck out, Fish catcher J.P. Realmuto couldn’t hold on to the pitch and had to throw out Bourjos at 1st base. Herrera took advantage, charging over to 3rd base. He would then score on a Maikel Franco ground out to put the Phillies on top 1-0.
That would be all the scoring in this game until Tommy Joseph led off the bottom of the 7th with his 12th home run of the year, a solo shot to left-center field that doubled the Phillies lead out to a 2-0 margin.
The performance of Nola was the big story to that point, though unfortunately so was the reason for his exit from the game.
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Through his six innings on the mound, Nola allowed just two hits, striking out five and walking one. He threw just 68 pitches, 45 of them for strikes, on a night when manager Pete Mackanin had planned for him to go at least 80 before evaluating him.
Nola clearly could have gone at least one more frame, if not for an incident in the top of the 6th inning. With one out, Adeiny Hechavarria lined a shot right back at Nola’s body. The pitcher threw his arms up in self-defense, catching the hot-shot off his right upper pitching arm.
Clearly stunned, he also clearly appeared to recover quickly. After a visit from the Phillies trainer to the mound, Nola stayed in the game. After a Fernandez sacrifice, he walked Realmuto. But then Nola retired Martin Prado to end the inning.
The Phillies decided out of an abundance of caution to pull their starter at that point, giving him a chance to ice down the arm. It was a tremendously encouraging outing for Nola, coming on the heels of his retiring the final 10 batters in his previous outing before having a start skipped just before the All-Star break.
So the Phillies took that 2-0 lead into the top of the 9th after clean relief innings from Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris. Mackanin turned the ball over to Jeanmar Gomez, who retired two of the first three batters around a Realmuto single.
Christian Yelich got the Marlins on the board, doubling into the left-center gap on a first pitch offering from Gomez. Realmuto rolled home, and it was a 2-1 Phillies lead.
Obviously pitching carefully after he had gotten ahead of slugger Giancarlo Stanton, Gomez walked the All-Star Home Run Derby winner to put two runners aboard with two outs and a one-run lead. Marlins skipper Don Mattingly then sent in Yefri Perez to run for Stanton.
Then on a 1-1 pitch, Marcel Ozuna looped a base hit into center field, scoring Yelich with the tying run. Perez was thrown out at 3rd on the play to end the inning, but the Fish had new life.
The game then remained knotted at 2-2 into the top of the 11th. There, with lefty Brett Oberholtzer on in relief, Prado lined his 3rd home run of the season out over the left field wall for what would prove to be the final and winning run.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t hold onto that lead in the ninth,” Mackanin said per MLB.com contributors. “But the good news was Nola. He pitched really well. He was painting both sides of the plate. He had his fastball working on both corners, down in the zone. Very encouraging.”
That appears to be what this at times promising Phillies season has become, a year of finding moral victories more often than actual wins on the field.
But Mackanin was correct on his Nola point. In the long run, this was always a step forward season in the Phillies rebuilding plan. That long-term plan requires a healthy, effective Nola near the front of its rotation. It appears that the righty has his head and his arm back in the right place now.