The Phillies continued their recent success on Friday night by taking the first of a three-game set in Houston against the Astros. They got just enough offense to pull off a 3-1 victory, but the real story is that we saw vintage Aaron Nola for the first time this year.
Kyle Schwarber got the Phils on the board early with a solo blast into the right field seats, his sixth dinger of the year. The good feelings didn’t last long, though, as Aaron Nola gave up a solo shot to Jeremy Peña in the bottom half of the frame to tie things up. But, unlike in his previous starts this season, the Phillies’ starter settled in after an early speed bump and looked like vintage Nola.
The 29-year-old was electric over 8.0 spectacular innings, with his curveball biting sharply and harnessing excellent command of his fastball. He surrendered only three hits on the night and walked none, while punching out six Astros. Not only was it fantastic to see vintage Nola return, but it was a much needed breather for a bullpen that has been ridden hard so far this season.
After using Seranthony Domínguez, Gregory Soto and Craig Kimbrel the day before, Manager Rob Thomson didn’t have many of his high-leverage options available. With Nola eating up so many innings, the only relief arm needed was the unhittable José Alvarado who slammed the door with a flawless bottom of the ninth.
As for the offensive side of the contest, the Phils scratched across a run each in the fifth and the seventh. Edmundo Sosa laced a one-out double into left field in the fifth, and Cristian Pache continued his surprisingly stellar play with a, RBI double of his right after. Unfortunately, Pache looked to tweak his knee while dancing off of second base, and was replaced with Brandon Marsh.
The seventh inning rally started much the same way, with Sosa lining another one-out double to left. Marsh then came to the plate in Pache’s stead and grounded a single up the middle to score Sosa to make it 3-1 Phils. That score would hold with Nola and Alvarado killing any hope of an Astros comeback, and securing a bit of revenge for the Phils over last year’s World Series winners.
Friday’s win marks a few big steps for this Phillies team. It was the first truly vintage Nola start we’ve seen, and it’s a very encouraging sign from a pitcher who’s struggled to find his footing so far this year. Alvarado continues to be one of, if not the best relief pitchers in baseball, and Nola’s long outing allowed the rest of this solid bullpen to catch a much needed rest. Finally, this victory brings the Phillies’ season-long record above .500 for the first time in 2023. After an abysmal start to the season, and a very up and down middle of the month, this team finally looks to be finding a groove.