October 12, 2022 3 min read
It was the middle of July in 2015. I remember it well. I met Aaron Nola for an interview at his Philadelphia hotel. He’d just been called up and was scheduled to make his debut with the team on July 31. Nola’s parents, AJ and Stacie, were also there to enjoy the moment with their young son. I was in the midst of my 18th season covering the Phillies for Comcast SportsNet and it was a depressing season. The team was openly in rebuild mode. The core of the 2008 World Series team was dwindling fast. Jimmy Rollins had been traded away to the Dodgers in the previous off-season and Chase Utley was about to be traded to LA in August. Cole Hamels, the Phillies’ ace, was also on the trading block. His pending absence would leave a big hole in the starting rotation.
Meanwhile, Aaron Nola was being fast-tracked through the Phillies’ minor league system. The future was about to become the present. Nola plowed through the minors. Drafted seventh overall by the Phillies in 2014, Nola started his career at Single A Clearwater. He opened the 2015 season at Double A Reading, where he went 7-3 with a 1.99 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in 12 games before being promoted to Triple A. He was equally as effective in Lehigh, where he went 3-1 with a 3.58 ERA before getting the call to the big leagues.
Nola became the first Philadelphia pitcher to make his MLB debut the year after he was drafted since Pat Combs debuted in 1989.
Nola gave Phillies fans reason for hope in his debut. He surrendered one run and struck out six in six strong innings. The team lost, but they stunk. All anyone cared about was the performance of the young righty. Nola finished 2015 going 6-2 with a 3.59 ERA in 13 starts. The Phillies finished dead last in the NL East that year, a dreadful 36 games below .500. It was a drastic fall from grace having won five straight division titles just four years earlier.
In 2015, Nola was their future… and in 2022, the future is now.
The Phillies made it to the postseason for the first time in 11 years and at the center of their success is Aaron Nola. Nola has struggled in Septembers past, but they balanced his load this season and it seems to have made a big difference. Nola went 4-2 with a 2.36 ERA in his final six starts of the regular season. In that span, he held hitters to a miniscule .191 batting average and .270 slugging percentage. He finished that stretch off by shutting down the Houston Astros in 6.2 innings of scoreless work. He was clearly ready to help carry the team on his first visit to the postseason.
Zack Wheeler got the ball in game one of the NL Wild Card. With 195 career regular season starts, he was the third most active pitcher without a postseason appearance and boy did he make the most of it. He threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings and struck out four. He allowed only two hits and one walk.
It was all Nola in game two and he was brilliant. The steely-eyed pitcher has been consistently showing his strengths, one being his ability to remain unfazed by pretty much anything. Nola threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings and likely sent future Hall of Famers Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina into retirement. Nola told ESPN, “Everybody in that clubhouse, on this team, in this organization is super excited… Just a bunch of unselfish guys, doing whatever it takes to win a ballgame, no matter what it is. It's a lot of excitement.”
The Phillies’ one-two punch of Wheeler-Nola is scary right now, just in time to face the World Series Champion Atlanta Braves. A pair of aces peaking at just the right time, poised to silence the naysayers. And for Nola, he’s hoping to finish what he came to Philly to do back in July 2015… win a World Series.
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