PHILADELPHIA — Another stellar performance from their ace and a big homer from their best pinch-hitter have lifted the Philadelphia Phillies to heights they haven’t reached in seven years.
Aaron Nola took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, Nick Williams hit his third pinch-hit homer of the year in the eighth and the Phillies moved into first in the NL East Saturday with a 2-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.
“It’s pretty cool,” Nola said. “It’s the first time I’ve been in first place since I’ve been up. We still have to go play baseball. We got some good teams coming up.”
Nola did not allow a hit until Russell Martin’s RBI single to left in the seventh, which tied the game at 1. After cruising through the first six innings, Nola came back out to work the seventh after a 13-minute rain delay — the second short delay of the game — and walked Justin Smoak and Yangervis Solarte before Martin came through, ending the right-hander’s day.
“I really wasn’t thinking about the no-hitter more than ‘Let’s tie this game up,’” Martin said. “Just tried to battle. He was making tough pitches all night long. I finally got a changeup that was up a little bit and found a hole. I’ll definitely take it. We definitely didn’t want to get no-hit for the second time this year.”
Seattle’s James Paxton no-hit Toronto on May 8.
Nola struck out 10 and walked three. He threw 113 pitches, matching a career high set on June 27, 2017.
“They were taking some good pitches,” Nola said. “I was just trying to get ahead, and I felt like I did that pretty well. I just thought they kind of ran my pitch count up. They laid off some good pitches. The defence helped me.”
Williams turned on an 0-1 cutter from Joe Biagini (0-4) to break the tie and allow Philadelphia to take a half-game lead over Atlanta in the NL East. It was the latest in a season the Phillies had been in first since the conclusion of the 2011 season, when they won 102 games.
“I was just looking for something up, something to drive. Something that I could hit hard. Especially in that situation. I was trying to get something going,” Williams said.
Williams leads the majors in pinch-hit RBIs (8) and total bases (19). His three pinch-hit homers tied Miami’s Justin Boar for tops in baseball.
Seranthony Dominguez (1-0), who relieved Nola, allowed one hit in 1 1/3 innings for his first major league win. Luis Garcia worked the ninth for his first save in his second opportunity.
Jaime Garcia allowed five hits in seven innings and gave up his only run on Maikel Franco’s homer leading off the fifth.
TRYING SOMETHING NEW
Martin played his first career game at shortstop. The longtime catcher has made 33 appearances at third base and four at second. The Blue Jays have used seven players at shortstop this season.
The last player age 35 or older to make his first start at shortstop was Jeff Cirillo, who was 36 years, 255 days on June 5, 2006. Martin was 35 years, 100 days on Saturday.
“As a kid growing up, my dream was to always play shortstop at the major league level,” Martin said. “I got away from it when I got converted to being a catcher after my first season in pro ball. But I’ve always felt like I’ve had the ability to play there. Getting that opportunity was awesome.”
Blue Jays: LHP J.A. Happ (6-3, 3.97 ERA) will return to the place his career started for the final game of the series. Happ pitched with the Phillies in 2009-10 before being packaged as part of the trade that landed Roy Oswalt in Philadelphia. Happ went seven innings, allowing two earned runs on three hits, in the Blue Jays’ win over the Angels on Tuesday.
Phillies: RHP Nick Pivetta (4-2, 3.23) has won his last three starts, allowing one earned run in 19 innings while striking out 25 and walking two. The 25-year-old native of Victoria, British Columbia, will be making his first career start against the Blue Jays.
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Kevin Cooney, The Associated Press