Brotherly love? Not so much between Nolas during NLCS
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Austin and Aaron Nola are each other’s biggest fans. Unless their teams are playing each other.
Austin was a typical big brother, never letting his little brother win at anything they played. Aaron tagged along to all of Austin’s football, basketball and baseball games.
The Nola brothers faced off for the third time in their big league careers on Wednesday. Aaron was on the mound for the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Championship Series. One of the batters the 29-year-old right-hander faced was his 32-year-old brother, San Diego Padres catcher Austin Nola.
“I know his stuff very well,” Austin said. “We talk a lot about pitching. I use a lot of his knowledge and wisdom to teach me.”
Big brother schooled little brother in Game 2.
“Big bro always wins,” Padres reliever Nick Martinez said. “They know each others’ weaknesses and it becomes more of a cat-and-mouse game. I’m glad this time our Nola came out on top.”
Austin grounded out in his first at-bat against Aaron.
“It’s a typical plate appearance versus my brother. I’m 0-2. I might as well just walk up there and tell him to put your strikes on me because that’s what it feels like,” Austin said. “I just battle. Just trying to hit something hard through the middle and good things happen.”
Austin hit an RBI single off Aaron in the fifth. That’s when the Padres rallied with five runs — four off Aaron — to take a 7-4 lead on their way to an 8-5 victory.
“He pitched his butt off. I thought he did an excellent job,” Austin said. “We just put together good at-bats on him. That’s what you’ve got to do with him.”
Aaron gave up six runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings and struck out six.
“I want to beat him,” Aaron said. “I want to go to the next round and let him go home.”
The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1 heading to Philadelphia for three games starting Friday.
“We flush this game and we start anew back home,” Aaron said.
The Nolas were the sixth set of brothers to play against each other in the postseason, and first since Baltimore’s Roberto and Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar Jr. in the 1997 AL Championship Series. It was the first sibling pitcher-batter matchup in postseason history.
“It’s pretty neat,” Aaron said. “We’re going to enjoy this moment and soak it in because we don’t know when it’ll ever happen again.”
But, of course, only one Nola will advance to the World Series. One brother will experience the thrill of playing for a ring; disappointment awaits the other.
“We both knew we were going to do everything we can to help our team,” Austin said. “There was not going to be anything given up on both sides.”
Aaron and the Phillies got the upper hand in the opener Tuesday night, winning 2-0.
In Game 2, the brothers faced each other for the first time in the postseason.
Their regular-season matchups were split decisions, both times at Petco Park. On Aug. 21, 2021, Aaron struck out Austin. The ball used for the strikeout, as well as photos, are part of the family’s memorabilia collection.
In June of this year, Austin got the upper hand. He singled on an 0-2 pitch from Aaron, who had held the Padres scoreless until the sixth inning, to drive in the lone run in San Diego’s 1-0 victory.
As kids in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the brothers were coached by their father, A.J., throughout childhood. Aaron got interested in the game by watching Austin playing tournament baseball. They attended the same high school and were at LSU together for one season, when Aaron was a freshman and Austin a senior.
Eager to be as good as his brother, Aaron studied everything Austin did.
“No matter what the stage was, if he didn’t get a hit, if he made an error, he never would hang his head, no matter if he was failing or succeeding,” Aaron said. “It really stuck out to me. I try to do that still today.”
They traveled different paths to the big leagues. Aaron was called up by the Phillies in 2015, and Austin made his debut with the Seattle Mariners in 2019 after toiling in the minors for several years.
In 2020, Austin was traded to the Padres, putting him in the National League and in his brother’s path more often.
As fun as it is for the brothers to square off, the situation is agonizing for their parents.
Mom Stacie plays it down the middle with her clothing, choosing not to wear the Phillies’ colors of red and white or the Padres’ colors of brown and yellow. Dad A.J. wears both of his sons’ jerseys, alternating which one is on top.
“I think he usually wears the Phillies jersey over the Padres jersey when I pitch, and then vice versa when I don’t pitch,” Aaron said. “Austin plays pretty much every day, so I think he wears the Padres jersey probably a little bit more.”
Austin and his wife have two children, including a daughter born last month. Aaron is unmarried.
Thursday is a travel day in the series. Just don’t book dinner reservations for the Nolas in the City of Brotherly Love yet.
“It depends on how the first two games go,” Austin said, laughing.
He was smiling after the game, too.
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