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Aaron Nola chooses comfort, World Series aspirations in returning to Phillies

PHILADELPHIA — Aaron Nola went home to his Center City apartment after Game 7 of the National League Championship Series and let reality hit him.

Not just the disappointment of the Phillies’ loss to Arizona, squandering series leads of 2-0 and 3-2, denying a second straight pennant. But, as he gazed over the Philadelphia skyline, that he was at that moment, for the first time in his professional career, not a Phillie.

“I think all the memories and stuff kind of rolled through my head,” Nola said Monday. “Living in the city, I looked out the window and was like, gosh, we might not be here. That’s the reality of it.”

The offseason and brief free agency that followed was a successful attempt for Nola to rectify that dissonance.

The pitcher’s sense of belonging in Philadelphia was part of the reason Nola signed a seven-year, $172 million deal to remain with the only organization that has ever employed him. Much as he could’ve made that money anywhere — reportedly more in some new city — Nola’s priority was to stay with the team that made him one of the most sought after pitchers in baseball.

“What hit me the most was obviously the loss but my teammates, everybody I became close with, (that) I could possibly not be there,” Nola said at a press conference to welcome him back. “And everybody my wife became close to, which was hard for her, too. You know, you’re in one spot for a little while and you’re comfortable there and you make friends, you make family, and they’re your friends for life. Not being able to see them all the time, it’s tough.”

Nola ended a five-year, $56.7 million contract signed in 2019, despite attempts before the season to ink an extension. He’s now set to stay with the Phillies through 2030. The first-round pick in 2014 ranks fifth in franchise history in strikeouts (1,582), seventh in starts (25) and second in 200-strikeout seasons (five). He’s made the most starts of any pitcher in baseball since 2018 and is second in innings, third in strikeouts and fifth in WAR over that span.

Nola struggled some in 2023, with a 12-9 record, 4.46 ERA and career-worst 32 home runs allowed. But he rallied for a strong September, bucking his usual trend of wearing, and was excellent in the postseason, with a 3-1 record, 2.35 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.

Nola was arguably the top pitcher available on the market.

He took meetings with several clubs, including reported interest from NL East rival Atlanta. But rather than waiting for the market to develop, Nola took the lead.

Wanting to settle the uncertainty — and with wife, Hunter, expecting the couple’s first child — they moved quickly to vet offers. When the numbers shook out, Nola found that the salary that would take care of his growing family was connected to the intangibles they wanted in Philadelphia.

“I’ve always wanted to be a Phillie,” Nola said. “I’ve always been a Phillie. This is the only place we kind of had our eyes set on. It’s the most comfortable place for me. Everybody in this organization is so good, has been so committed to winning, committed to the players. The relationships that I’ve made, it’s going to last a lifetime, and I feel like it would’ve been hard to get away from those people.”

President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski gave the team’s perspective: “It was really important for us to try to get this done, to sign one of the best pitchers, to me, in major league baseball. … (It’s) a unique situation because not only a tremendous pitcher and human being, but what Aaron and Hunter mean for the community. They’re already entrenched in the city and have done so much. Anything could happen, but it was apparent that they really wanted to remain part of this organization and this community, and that’s a great thing for all of us.”

The Phillies have not been shy about handing out long contracts. They are committed in 2030 to paying a combined $75 million to Nola, Trea Turner and Bryce Harper, all of whom will be 37. Nola has been the portrait of durability through nine big league seasons, and the club is confident that will continue.

“It starts with his work ethic and his dedication and his desire to be great for a long time,” general manager Sam Fuld said. “When you evaluate these kinds of things, you have to start with the makeup. And I don’t know if anyone in the game has better makeup than Aaron Nola. The routine and the consistency, day in and day out, good outing or bad outing, it’s the same person and the same desire to be good the next time he gets the ball.”

Nola’s signing, made official Saturday, achieved the Phillies’ primary offseason goal: To add an elite starting pitcher, with Nola as their first choice. With it, Dombrowski deemed the 2024 rotation “set” and conceded that there isn’t any “glaring spot” to upgrade. The marquee offseason signings of the past two years appear to be done, then, barring a trade moving out an established piece and marginal improvements to the bench or bullpen.

The stated desire to run it back for a team that has won seven games in the last two National League Championship Series may not be the buzziest offseason gambit. But that continuity is part of what drew Nola back, and it underscores the goal that unites a familiar clubhouse.

“I think the biggest thing I think about is winning the World Series,” Nola said. “The past two years, we’ve gotten pretty close. We obviously have the team to do it and to make that next step is obviously my goal. It’s everybody in that clubhouse’s goal. It’s everybody in the organization’s goal to do that. And that was a big reason that I came back.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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