HOUSTON – Aaron Nola was nowhere near perfect for the Philadelphia Phillies in Houston this time.
Nola was done after 4 1/3 innings in Game 1 of the World Series, though he retired the final six batters he faced and left in a tie game after the Phillies rallied from an early 5-0 deficit — and won 6-5 after J.T. Realmuto led off the 10th inning with his third homer this postseason.
“No doubt at all,” Nola said of the team's comeback. “Throughout the whole game. I mean, we’ve done it before.”
Just 3 1/2 weeks earlier at Minute Maid Park, Nola was perfect through 6 2/3 innings against the Astros before giving up two hits. Philadelphia won 3-0 that night to clinch its first playoff berth since 2011, and now the Phillies are in the World Series for the first time since 2009.
Things started good for Nola when he opened with consecutive strikeouts, setting down three-time batting champion Jose Altuve and American League Championship Series MVP Jeremy Peña.
But Kyle Tucker homered twice off the Phillies right-hander. Tucker went deep leading off the second, before a laborious plate appearance an inning later that ended with a 95 mph sinker left over the middle of the plate.
“They were all over me in the second or third inning,” Nola said.
Nola got ahead 0-2 before missing with two breaking balls, and a foul ball and a ball got it to a full count. Tucker didn't miss the sinker, hitting a three-run shot nearly 400 feet into the Astros bullpen in right-center to make it 5-0.
That was the last batter to reach base against Nola, who was already nearing 60 pitches when Tucker homered for the second time.
While it appeared Nola's night might be over after that, the Phillies scored three runs when likely AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander threw 31 pitches in the top of the fourth. Nola came back out to get his only 1-2-3 inning after manager Rob Thomson asked him how he felt.
“I felt good,” Nola said. “They were scratching hits off me, and obviously Tucker’s two homers, you know, hurt me a little bit right there. But I felt good, felt good in the fourth inning, and that one out in the fifth inning, and the bullpen came in and did awesome.”
A two-run double by Realmuto, the Phillies catcher, tied the game in the fifth. Nola struck out Peña again to open the bottom of the inning, and with left-handed slugger Yordan Alvarez coming up, Thomson replaced him with lefty Jose Alvarado.
“Nola looked like he had a little trouble working out of the stretch today. He’s got to work on that,” Thomson said. “But when he was in the windup he was pretty good, actually.”
Nola struck out five and walked two. He allowed six hits while throwing 52 of 81 pitches for strikes.
“We sent him out for Peña, and then we were going to stick Alvarado on Álvarez, and that’s where we went from there,” Thomson said. “And then we just kind of pocketed everything after that.”
Five Phillies relievers, with David Robertson finishing it off, limited the Astros to four hits over 5 2/3 scoreless innings.
“Awesome, amazing," Nola said. “They picked me up, they shut the door.”
Going into the World Series, that loss to Nola on Oct. 3 was the last for the Astros.
The 29-year-old Nola, the seventh overall pick by the Phillies in the 2014 draft, made his playoff debut with 12 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run as Philadelphia swept the NL wild-card round against St. Louis and upset defending World Series champion Atlanta in the Division Series. His 11 2/3 scoreless streak to begin his playoff career is the longest in club history.
But he struggled in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series, allowing six runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings in a loss to San Diego. His older brother, Austin Nola, had a key RBI single off Aaron during that Padres victory.
The night after Nola beat the Astros, Verlander struck out 10 over five innings in his last start of the regular season, and the bullpen gave up a no-hit bid in the ninth inning of that 10-0 win. Houston also won the series finale, then swept both the ALDS and ALCS.
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