WASHINGTON (AFP) — Philadelphia pitcher Aaron Nola, who baffled Houston’s formidable batting lineup in a playoff-clinching victory, walks back onto the same mound for the opening game of the Major League Baseball’s World Series.
It will be 29-year-old Nola against 39-year-old Astros star Justin Verlander in a battle of right-handed pitchers in Game 1 on Friday (Saturday in Manila) at Minute Maid Park.
Nola took a perfect game into the seventh inning at Houston on 3 October in a 3-0 triumph, but the fancied Astros haven’t lost a game since while the longshot Phillies have delivered a shocking run in their first MLB playoff appearance in 11 years.
“It’s nice to be able to pitch on this mound the last time we were here, just to get a feel for it and know how it holds up, so I think that’s an advantage to that part,” Nola said.
It doesn’t hurt Nola to be familiar with Houston’s sluggers either, including third baseman Alex Bregman, his former roommate at Louisiana State University.
“It’s a good lineup. They do a lot of things well,” Nola said.
“They hit for average, hit for power. They’re scrappy. But for me, I just have to make pitches to them and keep the ball on the ground.”
He’ll especially enjoy going against Bregman.
“It’s pretty cool to be able to face off against Bregman at this point of the season,” Nola said.
“He’s had such a good career over here with the Astros.”
“I know him really well and he’s pretty much the same guy as when I first met him. So super happy for him and definitely pretty cool to be able to compete against him.”
It won’t be Nola’s first familiar face swinging a bat against him. Nola faced his brother Austin of the San Diego Padres in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, the first time that brothers faced each other as pitcher and batter in MLB playoff history.
“I talked to him the other day,” Nola said of his brother.
“He congratulated me and said he was sorry we didn’t talk after the game. He was pretty upset, which I understand.”
“It was definitely pretty cool playing against him in that series. We said soak it up because it might not ever happen again.”
Houston seeks a feat almost as rare.
The Astros have gone 7-0 in the playoffs to reach their fourth World Series in six seasons and chase their first crown since 2017. No club has made an unbeaten post-season run to the title since Cincinnati in 1976.
“I don’t think anybody cares,” Verlander said of an unbeaten title run.
“As long as it ends in a Chip (championship).”
Philadelphia’s Rob Thomson, the first Canadian manager in a World Series, will try to use lessons from that series earlier this month against the Astros now.
“Hitters are hitters,” Thomson said.
“We’ll know their stuff. We know some of their tendencies, what they like to do, and we’ll try to attack it as best we can.”