About three hours before first pitch, manager Gabe Kapler said there is always a feeling within the clubhouse whenever it’s Aaron Nola’s turn in the rotation.
They call it “Nola Day.”
Consider Saturday “Nola and Harper Day.”
The right-handed ace struck out 12 over six innings, while Bryce Harper clubbed a no-doubt-about-it home run as the Phillies beat the Rockies, 2-1, on a picturesque afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies are 26-19, first in the National League East, and 17-10 at home.
The Rockies dropped to 20-24 after losing the first two games of this three-game set.
• A Rockies lineup scoring over five runs per game was quieted by Nola, who looked like the 2018 version of Nola, when the righty finished third in NL Cy Young voting.
• The Phillies’ bullpen, which entered with the NL’s third-best ERA (3.88), was massive. Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez got the Phillies out of trouble in the seventh inning. Hector Neris notched a two-inning save.
Phillies relievers have thrown six scoreless innings over the last two games, both one-run wins.
• Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela had not seen much of this Phillies lineup, but he battled through five innings. The Phillies, who came in seeing 4.04 pitches per plate appearance, most in the National League, forced Senzatela to throw 101 pitches and four walks.
Nola, have mercy
Nola’s first inning was a clear-cut indicator Saturday could be a special start. He painted the corners and struck out the side, all looking, on 13 pitches. In his previous start, he labored through a career-high 38-pitch first inning.
On Saturday, Nola had it all working. His pitches were darting and dipping as everything moved to keep Colorado guessing. His 12 punchouts tied his career high. He scattered eight hits and walked just one over 106 pitches.
This effort came on the heels of Nola matching his shortest outing of the season with three innings in a no-decision against the Brewers.
On Saturday, he was relieved in the seventh with no outs following a leadoff triple and run-scoring double as the Rockies trimmed the Phillies’ lead to 2-1. Nola was not yet at 100 pitches and working against the bottom of the order heading into the frame, so Kapler justifiably had no problem sending him back out there for the seventh.
Nola improved to 3-0 with 38 strikeouts and four walks in four career starts against Colorado, which has had a top-10 offense in each of the past five seasons.
Through his first 10 starts last season, Nola was 6-2 with a 2.37 ERA, 57 strikeouts and 14 walks.
This season, he’s 4-0 with a 4.47 ERA, 60 strikeouts and 21 walks. He’s rounding into form.
Has it landed yet?
As the Phillies took the field before first pitch, Harper took his typical bow in salute to the fans in the right-field seats.
The Bryce bow. pic.twitter.com/QQdlW4ZIZ9
— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) May 18, 2019
After seeing one pitch in the bottom of the first inning, he could have easily taken another bow. He put the Phillies ahead, 1-0, with a mammoth home run to a spot baseballs don’t often land at Citizens Bank Park (see story).
Harper went 2 for 3 with his big homer, a double and a walk. He has hit safely in four straight games after going 10 for 70 (.143) over his previous 21 games.
Love for the glove
The Phillies had not played cleanly in the field over the previous three games, committing five errors and some lapses in decision-making.
They were sound Saturday. Rhys Hoskins made a sliding catch in foul territory to retire Nolan Arenado during the fourth inning. Maikel Franco made a nice play ranging to his left and throwing out pitcher Senzatela in the fifth inning. He also cut down the potential game-tying run at the plate in the seventh with a 5-2 tag out.
The Phillies are 21-5 when they don’t make an error.
At the dish
The Phillies went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left nine on base. They registered six hits and five walks
Daniel Murphy, the former Mets and Nationals infielder now with the Rockies, entered 10 for 29 (.345) with three doubles, two homers and a triple lifetime against Nola. He went 0 for 2 with two strikeouts and a walk Saturday vs. Nola.
Can’t beat it
A sold-out crowd got a good one. It was 78 degrees with a blue sky at first pitch. Nola, Harper and the bullpen put the cherry on top.
The Phillies will go for the three-game sweep Sunday before opening a seven-game road trip against the Cubs (four-game series) and Brewers (three-game series), the two-best teams in the NL Central.
Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff (2-2, 2.65) takes the ball Sunday (1:05 p.m./NBCSP) for the Phillies and will oppose Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland (2-5, 5.68).
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