ST. LOUIS — Starting pitcher Aaron Nola waited a long time to reach postseason play with the Philadelphia Phillies, so he is geared up to finally hit the big stage Saturday.
The Phillies defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 6-3 in Game 1 of the National League wild-card series Friday at Busch Stadium, putting them in position to close out the Cardinals with another road victory in the best-of-three series.
Nola (11-13, 3.25 ERA this season) will draw the start in Game 2.
“I’ve been on the Phillies since 2015, been on some losing teams, of course,” Nola said. “And it’s obviously not fun. Way more fun being on this side of it, getting into the postseason.
“Since being here, since ’15, every year we’ve gotten better. I see it in spring training, in the clubhouse. Better guys, better talent, and I think we just had to make that last push, and I think we did that this year.”
Nola shut out the Houston Astros for 6 2/3 innings in his last regular season start. He posted a 2.36 ERA in his last six starts, reversing the trend of last season when posted a 6.19 ERA in his last six starts.
He lost his only start against the Cardinals on July 11 when he allowed five runs on seven hits in seven innings.
Nola is 5-3 with a 2.69 ERA in nine career starts against the Cardinals. Albert Pujols (3-for-6, two doubles, two RBIs) and Corey Dickerson (5-for-14, homer, three RBIs) have hit well against him while Tommy Edman (0-for-11), Paul Goldschmidt (3-for-20, eight strikeouts) and Nolan Arenado (3-for-15) have struggled.
“Gotta try to get ahead of them,” Nola said. “Experienced veteran guys, been in this position before, World Series winners. Gotta try to get ahead of them and execute pitches. I mean, there’s really no other way about it. They’re smart hitters.”
The Cardinals appeared to be in great shape Friday with a 2-0 lead in the ninth inning, but closer Ryan Helsley lost control after aggravating the strained middle finger on his pitching hand.
The Phillies staged a six-run rally against him and fellow reliever Andre Pallante to push the Cardinals to the brink.
“”I think we’ll be fine,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “We know what’s at stake. Win or go home. We’ll embrace that.”
The Cardinals will start Miles Mikolas (12-13, 3.29 ERA) in Game 2. Mikolas pitched three relief innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Oct. 3 in his final tune-up, allowing one run on three hits.
Now he starts with the Cardinals facing elimination. “That’s a big game to be a part of,” Mikolas said. “I’m excited to get the opportunity to start it.”
He hopes to draw on his postseason experience to keep the game from becoming too big.
“It’s a really important game, but it’s a still just a baseball game,” Mikolas said. “The strike zone is the same. I’ve faced the Phillies before, their hitters are the same. Maybe they are a little more locked in. I’m more locked in because it’s the playoffs. Everything is kind of the same. It’s just a lot more important of a game.”
Mikolas has been especially effective at Busch Stadium this season, going 6-3 with a 2.38 ERA in 14 starts. He is 1-1 with a 2.13 ERA in two starts against the Phillies this season and he is 2-1 with a 3.16 ERA in five career outings against them, including four starts.
Bryce Harper is 4-for-10 with a homer against Mikolas while Nick Castellanos (5-for-15, two homers, three RBIs) and Rhys Hoskins (2-for-8, three walks, homer, two RBIs) have done some damage against him.
Marmol said he is unsure about Helsley’s status for the rest of the series. Giovanny Gallegos would take over as closer in his place if needed.
–By Jeff Gordon, Field Level Media