Brotherly love takes center stage in NL Championship Series

by Jacob Fuller

Rob Issa, FISM News


Austin Nola won the battle of brothers to change his team’s playoff fortune.

Nola hit an RBI single off younger brother, Aaron, to spark a five-run inning and lead the San Diego Padres to overcome a 4-0 deficit to defeat the Philadelphia Phillies 8-5 on Wednesday evening in the National League Championship Series. The series is now tied at 1-1.

Brandon Drury hit a solo homer and had the go-ahead two-run single in the fifth and Manny Machado also went deep for the Padres.

The rally started when Austin Nola came to the plate with the Padres trailing 4-2 with Ha-Seong Kim on first base. Austin lined an 0-2 sinker off Aaron into right-center field. Kim sprinted around the bases to score from first on the one-out single.

Austin became the first player in MLB history to record an RBI off of his brother in the postseason. It was the biggest moment of his career, but he couldn’t celebrate.

“I’ve got to get ahold of my brother,’’ he said after the game. “I hope he’s in good spirits. I want to make sure he’s all right. None of us are good after losses, right?”

The last time two brothers faced each other in a postseason game was in 1997, when Sandy Alomar played for Cleveland and Roberto Alomar played for Baltimore in the ALCS. However, two brothers had never faced one another as a pitcher and batter in the postseason.

“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.”

Aaron had been outstanding in the postseason. He didn’t allow an earned run in his first two starts but he faltered against the Padres thanks to his big brother’s heroics.

“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 shared hitting tips with his teammates on how to attack his brother’s pitching style in a pre-game meeting. The Padres, after getting just one hit in a 2-0 loss in the series opener Tuesday night, got seven off Nola before knocking him out of the game in the fifth inning.

“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.”

The 29-year-old Aaron has had a better career than 32-year-old Austin. Aaron was a first-round pick by the Phillies in 2014 out of LSU. He had a breakout season in 2018, making the All-Star team and finishing third in NL Cy Young Award voting. The Phillies gave him a $45.5 million, four-year contract extension after that season.

Austin was first drafted out of high school by Colorado in 2008. He went to LSU and ended up getting drafted by Toronto in the 31st round in 2011. He stayed in school another year and went to Miami in the fifth round in 2012. Austin switched from being an infielder to a catcher and made his major league debut with Seattle in 2019. He became San Diego’s starting catcher this season and batted .251 with four homers and 40 RBIs in 110 games.

Earlier this season, in June, Austin singled on an 0-2 pitch from Aaron to drive in the lone run in San Diego’s 1-0 victory over the Phillies.

“I want to beat him,” Aaron said. “I want to go to the next round and let him go home.”

Big brother helped little brother become a star pitcher by setting an example for him on how to deal with adversity.

“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.”