Nola parents watch Austin best younger brother Aaron in Padres win
SAN DIEGO – Padres catcher Austin Nola pulled up a chair Wednesday afternoon, grabbed a cold one, leaned back, stared at the ceiling, exhaled.
He wanted to feel euphoria, but couldn’t.
He wanted to immediately reach out to his parents, but it felt awkward.
“I’ve got to get ahold of my brother,’’ he said quietly. “I hope he’s in good spirits. I want to make sure he’s all right. None of us are good after losses, right?’’
Nola, with one swing of the bat, turned Wednesday’s game upside down, igniting a zany rally leading San Diego to an 8-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, and evening the National League Championship Series at 1-game apiece.
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It was the most glorious moment of Nola’s career, but the most gut-wrenching too.
The hit, you see, was off his little brother, Phillies ace Aaron Nola.
“That was very difficult to watch,’’ said A.J. Nola, their dad, who watched the game wearing a Padres cap, a Phillies jersey, and a Padres jersey underneath. “Words can’t describe it.’’
A.J. Nola, while trying to gather his emotions, grabbed his cell phone. He called up the picture sent to him early in the day.
It was the entire baseball team from Catholic High in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where his two sons attended, sitting in front of their lockers before the start of practice, staring at the TV set in the middle of the room.
It was showing Game 2 of the NLCS with the Nola brothers facing one another.
“That is the coolest picture,’’ A.J. Nola said, “I’ve ever seen.’’
It was history in living color.
The last time two brothers played one another in a postseason game was in 1997 with Sandy and Roberto Alomar when Cleveland played Baltimore in the ALCS, but never, ever, had two brothers faced one another as a pitcher and position player.
Now, in the biggest games of their lives, with the Padres losing 4-2 in the fifth inning, it was Austin Nola that changed the entire complexion of the game.
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GAME 2: Padres stun Phillies as big brother gets best of little brother
Austin, who grounded out in his first at-bat, fouled off an 88.5-mph cutter on the first pitch. He swung and missed a 94.4-mph fastball on the second pitch. He barely fouled off the next to stay alive.
“Typical plate appearance against my brother,’’ Austin said. “I’m 0-2. I know the kind of pitcher he is. I know he’s not going to give in. And I know he’s going to come right after me with his best stuff. I always look for the fastball with him.’’
Aaron came back with a 95.1-mph sinker that was up in the zone.
Austin was ready for it.
He drilled it into the right-center-field gap, scoring Ha-Seong Kim to cut the Phillies’ lead to 4-3, with the sellout crowd of 44,6047 going bonkers.
“I was just trying to hit something hard up the middle, and good things happen,’’ Austin Nola said. “I just waited on the fastball. I’m always looking hard stuff with him.’’
While the crowd stood and cheered, A.J. Nola merely stood up, put his finger to his face, while his wife, Stacie, smiled without clapping her hands.
“That [hit] was a big rally point,’’ A.J. Nola said. “A huge rally point. I was very excited in my own way. That started it all.
“It was a great match-up.’’
The Phillies were never again the same. Aaron Nola lasted just three more batters. The Padres sent 11 batters to the plate. And by the time the 37-minute inning ended, the Padres had a 7-4 lead, with the game in hand.
Aaron Nola was left with an ugly line of seven hits, six earned runs, no walks and six strikeouts.
And it was his own brother that started his demise.
You talk about conflicted emotions.
“Pretty tough on my parents, I’m sure,’’ Austin Nola said, “what they’re dealing with.’’
“There was no emotion,’’ said A.J. Nola. “I felt joy for the city of San Diego for sure, but it was bittersweet.
“It was a tough one, man. It was tense.’’
Really, Nola says, there’s nothing comparable to the experience of seeing their only two sons play against one another, particularly as a pitcher and a hitter.
There’s no one he can relate to simply because it has never happened in the history of the game.
“That makes me prouder than anything,’’ A.J. Nola said, “hearing stuff like that. It’s a blessing, and then some. I’m as happy as anyone.’’
He just wishes there wasn’t winner and loser with the stakes so high.
“During the season it was fun,’’ A.J. Nola said. “We know what it means to each of their cities. And it makes it a lot harder. A lot harder.’’
Yet, while they may be brothers, they are also fierce competitors. It’s why Austin Nola gave a comprehensive scouting report on his brother in the hitter’s meetings.
“Well, I do know him,’’ Austin Nola said, “pretty well. Really, really well.’’
The Padres laughed, and said, yes, Nola spoke up at the hitters’ meetings, telling them how best to attack his brother, and to beat them.
Nothing personal, but the Nolas are in this series to win it, and not particularly spare each other’s feelings.
“This is fun, this is competitive,’’ Austin Nola said, “this is what you live for. You want to compete on the big stage against each other. There’s some friendly smack talk. You got to be that way, right?’’
The Nola brothers, who played whiffle ball together as kids, and were on the same high school team and collegiate team at LSU, wish they had taken a snap shot of the first time they faced one another. They know it’s a moment they’ll forever treasure.
“Stepping in the box against your brother in a situation in a big-league game, I wish I could hold the moment,’’ Austin Nola said. “I wish I could press pause on the time button.
“It’s special. It’s a family thing. I’ll always remember it. He’ll always remember it. My family will always remember it.
“I’m sure we’ll be talking about this 20 years from now when we’re all sitting around Christmas time.’’
It’s just that they have no plans to re-live the moment any time soon. Austin and Aaron Nola, who got together for breakfast Monday morning, are expected to have a family dinner Thursday in Philadelphia with their family.
Maybe the conversation will come up then.
“Last time they matched up we went back to Austin’s house,’’ A.J. Nola said, “we chatted and really didn’t say one word about the game.’’
The two brothers are best of friends, with Aaron playing baseball because of Austin, who’s three years older, and Austin still playing because of perseverance inspired by Aaron.
Still, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to beat each other’s heads in, just like brothers do.
“It’s competitive, right?,’’ Austin Nola said. “That’s the way it’s always been. Nothing’s changed, right? The competition is always there, and it will always be. He never gives in. You can always tell.
“He’s a competitor. He’s an ultimate competitor. That’s the kind of pitcher he is. That’s what makes him so successful.’’
Still, Austin says, it’s tough knowing your success came against family, but any guilt feelings have vanished over the years.
“I love the empathy stuff,’’ Austin Nola said, “but we want to win. He’ll tell you the same thing. It’s the postseason. We’re going all out. There’s no empathy here.
“We want to help our team win. That’s how it goes, right? You want to do everything you can to win.’’
Says Aaron Nola, who had faced his brother just twice before, yielding one hit in six at-bats: “It’s the same as it was the first time we played against each other. We’re trying to win. They’re trying to win. That’s what it comes down to.’’
The Nola brothers could be matched up one more time, perhaps Game 6 of the NLCS, with the family already bracing for the emotional confrontation.
The winner of the NLCS goes to the World Series.
The loser goes home.
When the World Series is over, and the family gathers at the Thanksgiving dinner table, what will the conversation be like for the Nolas.
“I don’t think there will be one,’’ A.J. Nola said. “I just don’t.’’
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale