ATLANTA — Things were looking dicey for the Phillies in the bottom of the ninth against the Braves on Wednesday. The bullpen had blown a 4-2 lead, and Craig Kimbrel took the mound to maintain a 4-4 tie.
With the winning run just 90 feet away from home, Kimbrel threw a four-seam fastball up in the zone, and Orlando Arica hit a fly ball in foul territory to right field. Nick Castellanos caught it — which was a gutsy decision — and gunned it home in time for catcher Garrett Stubbs to tag Luke Williams out and end the inning.
In the 10th inning, the Phillies got their first hit since the fifth. With the bases loaded, Bryson Stott, who was in an 0-for-10 skid, hit a two-run double to give the Phillies a 6-4 lead.
Matt Strahm closed out the 10th inning, allowing one run off an RBI sacrifice fly by Ozzie Albies, for a 6-5 victory. The Phillies took two of three from the Braves in the series and are 3 1/2 games up in the top wild-card spot going into Wednesday night’s games.
This has been a frustrating season for Aaron Nola, for more ways than one. But at the heart of his problems is the “big inning,” as manager Rob Thomson calls it, when the hits start to fall, the runs start to score, and Nola is unable to stop the bleeding.
It hasn’t always been this way. Thomson said before this season, Nola was a “chaos killer,” a starter who was able to pitch his way out of trouble. But the rules are different now. Pitchers are only allowed two pickoffs per plate appearance. Base sizes have grown from 15 to 18 inches, to increase stolen base attempts. A 20-second pitch clock dwindles down when there is a runner on base.
Every pitcher has had to adjust, and some have adjusted well. Nola has not, which has led to a .303 batting average against with runners in scoring position. It has also led to more “big innings.” But on Wednesday afternoon, that big inning never came.
Nola held the Braves hitless for his first three innings. Only one ball left the infield, a lineout to left field from Ronald Acuña Jr. In the fourth, he allowed back-to-back singles to put runners on first and second. But instead of spiraling, he pitched his way out of trouble. Nola struck out Austin Riley, allowed an RBI single to Matt Olson and a wild pitch that let both runners advance. He induced a lineout from Marcell Ozuna and struck out Eddie Rosario to end the inning.
The Braves threatened again, in the fifth, and again, Nola held his ground. Michael Harris hit a one-out double, Nicky Lopez singled to score him, and Nola retired Acuña and Albies on a groundout and a strikeout. He pitched a one-hit inning in the sixth.
Nola threw 94 pitches, of which 68 were strikes, and allowed two earned runs on six hits with eight strikeouts in six innings. He didn’t allow a home run or a walk for just the second time this season.
Castellanos hits two homers
Since Sept. 9, when Castellanos was dropped to eighth in the lineup for the first time since 2015, he has hit five home runs. He hit two of those on Wednesday. In the second inning, he hit a solo shot to center field, and in the fourth, he hit a two-run shot to right center.
Castellanos accounted for all of the Phillies’ runs in the first nine innings. It was not a good offensive day for the lineup, overall. The Phillies drew 10 walks, but went 2 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
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