Winter 2022 magazine

Pitcher Aaron Nola helps Phillies snap playoff drought as he trusts God's plan for his life

The last time the Philadelphia Phillies were in the playoffs, Aaron Nola had just graduated from high school. An essentially unknown freshman pitcher for LSU, Nola watched as the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Phillies in the 2011 NLDS.

Fast forward 11 years, and Nola is now one of the key pieces in the Phillies’ long-awaited postseason return. The team he and his teammates are up against? Those same Cardinals.

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Nola is a seasoned veteran by now, a 2018 All-Star with a career 78-62 win-loss record and a 3.60 ERA. Still, the eight-year pro is as new to the MLB playoffs as the rookies on his team.

“It’s sweet, man. It’s sweet,” Nola said in a celebratory clubhouse after clinching a playoff berth Monday night. “I came up with these guys and been through some hard years. A lot of lost years, and every year we’re getting better. Just to make it to the wild card, it’s huge.”

Nola’s major-league debut came in 2015, a year after Philadelphia drafted him No. 7 overall following a successful college career with his hometown Tigers. He won the National Player of the Year Award in 2014, the SEC Pitcher of the Year Award in 2013 and 2014, and made an appearance in the 2013 College World Series. However, the team success he enjoyed in Baton Rouge was nowhere to be found in Philadelphia.

The Phillies’ glory days of five consecutive postseason appearances (2007-2011, which included a 2008 World Series title) were a distant memory when Nola arrived. In fact, the franchise was in the midst of a stretch of 10 consecutive seasons without a winning record, a streak that wouldn’t come to an end until the 2021 Phillies posted an 82-80 record.

None of that matters for Nola and his teammates now. They are focused on putting an end to the drought St. Louis set in motion 11 years ago, and Nola is ready. The 2022 season was perhaps Nola’s best since his All-Star campaign in 2018 as he posted a 3.25 ERA and a career-high 235 strikeouts.

Bucking the narrative that he can’t perform down the stretch, Nola finished with a 2.36 ERA in September and October and delivered a gem in his final regular-season outing. He was perfect through 6 and 2/3 innings and helped his team to a 3-0 victory over the Houston Astros, clinching the playoff berth that had eluded the franchise for so long.

Yet even with the hopes of an entire city riding heavily on how he pitches against the Cardinals, Nola knows it rests not ultimately with him, but with God. In April 2020, while being interviewed by Christ Church South Philly, Nola was asked about how his faith in Jesus steadies him during trials like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Through Bible studies and chapels, I learned who Jesus is and what He could do and to put all my trust and all my faith in Him,” he said. “… He has a reason for everything, and we should always put our trust in Him with that, because He knows where our path is going — He makes it — and the outcome is in His hands.”

He continued later: “There are things that are going to happen to us that we don’t like, that we don’t expect and that are unexpected, and we shouldn’t ask too many questions why. Because He knows why, and He knows where we’re gonna go, and He knows what His plan is for us.”

In a 2017 book by Rob Maaddi which collected devotionals from 52 MLB players, Nola focused on the importance of the Bible.

“The Bible has all the answers,” he wrote. “It tells you how to live. … It’s all about faith in the Lord and putting Him first. He’s always with you. You’re in this together. You’re never alone. He’s everything you need.”

The unknowns of Nola’s first-ever playoff appearance could present another opportunity for him to lean more into his faith and trust more in God’s perfect plan for his life. He knows that whether he and his teammates get bounced in the first round or whether they win the World Series, ultimate peace is found in Christ alone.

Nola is slated to begin his postseason career by starting Game 2 of the wild-card round when the Phillies take on the Cardinals in St. Louis. The game is set for 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

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