For the first time in postseason history, siblings faced each other as pitcher and hitter. Little brother Aaron Nola, pitching for the Phillies, against big brother Austin Nola, catching for the Padres. Bottom of the second in Petco Park, two out, and an early/often 4-0 Phillies lead was cut in half a few minutes earlier.
Little brother was something of a star entry from almost the moment he arrived in the Show. Big brother got to the Show the hard way, even switching from his original shortstop position to the tools of ignorance behind the plate. Little brother had five years in Show before big brother got anything close to a clean shot.
Now, little brother lured big brother into an inning-ending bounce out to third base. Three innings later, though, Austin let Aaron know big brother was watching him carefully enough. With one out, and after several throws by little brother to first to keep Padres shortstop Ha-Seong Kim (leadoff single) from thinking too much about theft, big brother struck.
Few things in life satisfy quite so much as getting little brother back after he got you good the first time. Fewer times than that does big brother get little brother good and start what shoves little brother to one side for the day.
Kim took off with the pitch and without looking back while Austin slashed a line single the other way to right, starting a five-run Padres uprising that ultimately put paid both to Aaron’s afternoon and the game, an 8-5 Padres win that sends the National League Championship Series to Philadelphia even-up at one game each.
All that while the Nola boys’ parents A.J. and Stacie Nola sat in the stands, A.J. doing his level best to avoid favouritism by sitting with a Phillies jersey (Aaron’s, of course) over a Padres jersey (Austin’s, of course) around his torso. They must have been thinking of tireless backyard Wiffle ball contests between the two that seeded tireless travel-ball jaunts in an RV to get the brothers from game to game.
They must also have been thinking they’d sooner have seen the inside of the House of the Rising Sun in the boys’ native Louisiana than to see them squaring off against each other with the National League pennant at stake.
“Of course you always root for your brother and want him to do well,” Austin told a reporter after Game Two ended. “It has been strange. But we talked about this beforehand. It was understood between us that this is competitive. There’s no empathy here. We both want to win . . . Now that it’s the postseason, and it’s all-out—bottom line, I hope you do well next year, you know?”
Easy for him to say.
Six pairs of siblings squared off against each other in postseason play before Wednesday: Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar (1996, 1997), Dane Iorg and Garth Iorg (1985), Clete Boyer and Ken Boyer (1964), Irish Meusel and Bob Meusel (1921, 1922, 1923), and Doc Johnston and Jimmy Johnston (1920). The Boyers, the Meusels, and the Johnstons did it in World Series play.
Not one of them was a pitcher facing the other at the plate.
“That’s crazy, that it hasn’t happened ever,” observed Padres pitcher Mike Clevinger postgame. “You’d think that somehow, sometime, it would line up. That is crazy. Crazy. Amazing. That’s just wild. It’s awesome. Romantic. It’s like a storybook. Always. And you never know. If it took 100 years for this to happen, you think about how, 100 years from now, that could still be the only time that it happened. That is crazy.”
After Kim dove across the plate with the third San Diego run, Padres left fielder Jurickson Profar smacked Aaron’s first pitch to right to set first and third up with a single out. Juan Soto—the Padres’ spotlight trade deadline acquisition, who struggled somewhat to rediscover his well-regarded mojo after the deal, and the only Padre who’s had a taste of World Series triumph (as a 2019 National)—pulled a high, hard liner deep into the right field corner, sending the elder Nola brother home with the game-tying run.
Aaron nailed Manny Machado after ball one with three straight strikes including a big swinger for strike three. Phillies manager Rob Thomson lifted Aaron for lefthander Brad Hand with lefthanded Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth due to hit. But a Hand curve ball sailing inside caught Cronenworth in the back as he turned trying to avoid it, and the Padre ducks were on the pond.
Up stepped Brandon Drury, who’d started cutting the early 4-0 Phillie lead in half with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the second. Up the pipe went his full-count line single with the runners in motion, home came Profar and Soto, and into the 6-4 lead the Padres went. Then Josh Bell—who followed Drury in the second by hitting Aaron’s first pitch right past the foul pole for a home run—lined one the other way through first and into right to send Cronenworth home and Drury to third.
Having broken the Hand, the Padres now faced righthanded Phillies reliever Andrew Bellatti. Kim returned to work himself into a bases-reloading walk, but Trent Grisham fought to a full count before lining two foul down the first base line and then looking at a nasty third strike on the inside corner.
Machado would add a little extra insurance in the bottom of the seventh against another Phillies reliever, David Robertson, freshly re-installed off the injured list, when he hit a 2-2 service about 424 feet over the center field fence. Except for Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins hitting Padres reliever Robert Suarez’s first pitch into the left field seats to open the top of the eighth, that was all the Phillies had to say for having their early swat-and-slash 4-0 lead eviscerated for keeps.
That lead began against Padres starter Blake Snell, who’d retired them in order in the top of the first, with designated hitter Bryce Harper lining a single over the middle and just above Kim’s upstretched glove. Right fielder Nick Castellanos followed to fight a jam pitch off the other way to right and falling in front of Soto, who struggled with the afternoon sun most of the time before the shadows began crossing the park.
Then it was Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm sending a line bloop into center to score Harper, second baseman Jean Segura swinging a strikeout, and center fielder Matt Vierling flying a long one the other way to right which Soto clearly lost in the sun despite trying to shield his eyes from the glare, scoring Castellanos. Then, it was shortstop Edmundo Sosa blooping one into short left to score Bohm, and left fielder Kyle Schwarber grounding one to first.
Drury knocked the ball down unable to handle it for a double play but able to step on the first base pad to get Schwarber for the second out—with Vierling scoring the fourth Phillie run. Hoskins then sent one high to right. Soto shaded his eyes again. This time, he had it for the side retired. From there he was hell bent on atonement. He finally got it when he sent Big Brother Nola home in that five-run fifth.
“I wish I could have taken a snapshot and just held the moment for like a day, you know, because that’s how fun it is,” said big brother after the game. “And I’m sure he would say the same thing, that stepping in the box and you get your brother in a situation, you know . . . just facing him in a big-league game is enough to just hold the moment.”
“I want to beat him,” little brother said. “I want to go to the next round and let him go home.”
Well, now. Until or unless Aaron gets Austin out later in this NLCS, especially in a moment where one false pitch might otherwise equal a game starting to upend and break open again, big brother has bragging rights on kid brother for . . . well, eternity may or may not be quite enough. Yet.