WASHINGTON Three extra innings were needed to decide the penultimate meeting of the season between the Phillies and Washington Nationals.
But, 48 minutes before the conclusion of Washington's 2-1 win in 12 innings on Saturday, the preseason National League East favorites were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. It was about 7:15 p.m. EDT when the scoreboard at Nationals Park reflected that the New York Mets had won, 10-2, in Cincinnati, to clinch the division.
With the Phillies' fate decided long ago, the game had officially been rendered meaningless. Eight more dominant innings from Stephen Strasburg mattered only for statistical purposes. The offseasons for both teams will begin a week from Sunday night.
The Phillies' 97th loss and 23d in their last 31 games was decided by a double from NL MVP front-runner Bryce Harper. The franchise's first 100-loss season since 1961 appears a foregone conclusion. The team must win five of its final seven games to avoid such infamy.
Strasburg mowed through the Phillies lineup 21/2 times before Brian Bogusevic lashed a first-pitch change-up for a run-scoring double in the eighth. The Nationals' 27-year-old right-hander, who faced the minimum number of batters through seven innings, allowed only three hits and struck out 13 in another outstanding performance against the Phillies.
After his exit, the Phillies' experienced their second reunion with Jonathan Papelbon, the team's former closer. Papelbon, who blew a save on Sept. 14 at Citizens Bank Park, worked around a Freddy Galvis leadoff single in a scoreless ninth.
Aaron Nola pitched well in what could have been the final start of his rookie season, but he was pulled after only five innings. Each was scoreless. The 22-year-old right-hander allowed six hits, all singles; did not issue a walk; and struck out five. He used only 67 pitches.
Nola displayed his advanced feel for pitching in the fourth inning. He allowed consecutive singles to Harper, Jayson Werth, and Clint Robinson to open the frame and fell behind, two balls and no strikes, to the next batter, Ian Desmond.
The inning could have unraveled there, but Nola evened the count with a pair of curveballs and caught Desmond looking at a fastball on the low, outside corner of the strike zone. A Matt den Dekker lineout and a Wilson Ramos groundout ended the Nationals' threat.
The start was Nola's 13th since the Phillies promoted him in late July from triple A. It was the first with his older brother, Austin, in attendance. Austin, 25, is an infielder in the Miami Marlins organization. His season with Triple-A New Orleans ended earlier this month.
Aaron Nola will, at most, pitch only once more before the end of his rookie season. As they did after his last start on Sunday in Atlanta, the Phillies will sit down with the pitcher to gauge how he feels. Saturday brought his innings count to 187 for his first full professional season.
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