Today’s afternoon game between the Phillies and the Nationals lived up to the hype of the pitcher’s duel between NL Cy Young candidates Aaron Nola and Max Scherzer, and those who tuned in were treated to top-notch performances by two of the best pitchers in the game.

But alas, both teams couldn’t win and Nola was just that much better than Scherzer as a two-run home run in the seventh inning by Odubel Herrera doomed the reigning Cy Young winner. Scherzer pitched seven innings and allowed just two hits – but walked four – along with 10 strikeouts in his first loss since July 6.

Like Scherzer, Nola was cruising through opposing batters until late in the game. Only two Nationals batters made it past first base in the first seven innings and after two quick outs in the eighth inning, it looked like Nola was going to continue to steamroll through the Nationals until Adam Eaton smacked a double to center field on a 2-1 count and Trea Turner drew a walk in the following at bat – the first free pass issued by Nola on the day.

Now with two men on, Nola had the tough task of facing a red-hot Bryce Harper. While Harper had a slow start to the 2018 season, he has been stellar since the All-Star break, owning a slash line of .354/.441/.655. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler visited the mound to speak to his young ace and ultimately decided to keep him in as Pat Neshek warmed up. But you could tell Nola was running out of steam. His first pitch to Harper was a curveball that flatlined and missed the strike zone. Nola then followed it up with another curve, a well thrown one that Harper missed as it seemed that he was looking for the fastball. However, Nola would again fall behind in the count with another curve ball that missed it’s mark.

Needing composure in a high-pressure situation, Nola called catcher Jorge Alfaro to the mound to discuss strategy. Whatever was exchanged between the two seemed to work as Nola evened the count with a fastball before slamming the door on Harper with a high and away fastball that Harper tried to hit out of the park.

 

Nola went eight innings, allowing five hits and one walk along with nine strikeouts. He is now 15-3 on the year with a 2.13 ERA.

The Phillies has been struggling as of late, losing nine of their last 13, but this game was an important test for Nola as he faced an elite-level pitcher and a crucial late-game situation on the mound and passed with flying colors. Games like this are what helps you get ready for the playoffs, something a young upstart Phillies team may be heading towards.

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