Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola throws against the Houston Astros during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, April 28, 2023, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

On June 4, 1993, future Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola was born. On that very same day, current Phillies pitcher Terry Mulholland had his best stuff. 

Granted, you didn’t need your best stuff to beat the Rockies, a weird, new purple team from mountain country. But Mulholland had brought it to the Vet that day anyway, and he used it for nine straight innings. Frame by frame he struck out Rockie after Rockie, amounting 14 K’s on the day — which turned out to be a high for his entire 1986-2002 career.

Manager Jim Fregosi was slack-jawed with amazement after the game, saying it was the best stuff he’d ever seen from Mulholland. This was the only all-star year of Mulholland’s career, he was throwing better than he ever had — he was also facing one of the two expansion teams with stitched-together rosters and limping lineups of has-beens and who-is-thats. 

And yet, despite all that, the Phillies lost. 

Sometimes, a game just doesn’t want to be won. 

They lost 2-1 in what was deemed the first pitching duel in Rockies’ history. It had taken until June, but Colorado’s Willie Blair had finally delivered a pitching performance worthy of… well, some other team, because the Rockies hadn’t been one for very long. Nevertheless, Blair went tit for tat with Mulholland and did not allow a run for eight innings, just like his counterpart. 

The 0-0 deadlock rolled into the ninth. Andres Galarraga and Charlie Hayes hit back-to-back doubles, the sixth and seventh hits of the day for the Rockies. With a runner on second after a single and a passed ball, that was all Colorado needed to get two runs across on a day when they would have been lucky to smack one foul. 

The Phillies made some noise in the bottom half of the inning on a Mickey Morandini RBI double that chased Blair from the game. But they were able to only cut the deficit in half, and Mulholland’s 14 strikeouts were all just part of a 2-1 loss that shrunk the Phillies’ NL East lead to a mere 6.5 games.

A magnificent pitching effort that felt like it was for nothing; everything done correctly, and yet, nothing gained. Fitting, then, that on the very day the Phillies were blowing a terrific Terry Mulholland start, Aaron Nola was coming into existence.

After seven years, Nola’s legacy in Philadelphia now hangs in the balance of every pitch. He is a flawed pitcher who struggles to adjust, but has shown time and time again he belongs among the best. 

Baseball pumps its dumb little weirdness into every attempt at greatness, and that — as well as the full scope of Nola, from his mid-game meltdowns to his life-giving victories; his misthrown meatballs to his devastating curve — has created a chaotic cheering/jeering section for him among Phillies fans.

He’s a perplexing pitcher in the last year of his deal, and he has not been pitching at the top of his game. But somewhere in there is a guy who can pitch into the eighth and strike out the opposing lineup’s best hitter three times; who pitched beautifully against the Astros in a game no one was ready to lose. 

But from the very beginning of Aaron Nola, the day he was coming into this world, the Phillies have exemplified this undeniable mantra: 

Even when you bring your best stuff, you’re still nine innings from a win.  

Justin Klugh has been a Phillies fan since Mariano Duncan's Mother's Day grand slam. He is a columnist and features writer for Baseball Prospectus, and has written for The Inquirer, Baltimore Magazine,...