PHILADELPHIA — If this was Aaron Nola’s last home start in red pinstripes, what a farewell it was. 

Nola, the longest-tenured member of the Philadelphia Phillies, the longest-tenured pitcher in the entire MLB playoffs, in fact, delivered the playoff performance of a career on Tuesday night. In Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, the bushy-haired 30-year-old allowed just three hits across six scoreless innings while punching out seven Arizona Diamondbacks along the way. In a contest that, despite the final margin, stayed close and tense for the first six innings, Nola kept his club firmly in control.

His performance — not to mention yet another hailstorm of long balls from the fully-operational Philadelphia offense — pushed the home team to a definitive 10-0 win. A Trea Turner fielding error on the very first batter of the game couldn’t rattle the ever-calm Nola, who struck out the next two batters before ending the frame on a Christian Walker popup.

Turner redeemed himself almost immediately with a solo homer. Kyle Schwarber crushed a pair himself. Those three bombs knocked out Merrill Kelly before the Phillies obliterated Arizona’s bullpen for six more runs between the sixth and seventh innings. What was briefly a pitchers’ duel morphed into a blowout. This series now heads west, with the defending NL champions a heavy favorite to repeat the feat.

But the night truly belonged to Nola, who will become a free agent for the first time in his career at season’s end. His future in town is murky; those in the know see his return as a coin flip. If this series ends in Arizona, Nola will not pitch until the World Series. And with Texas also up 2-0 on Houston in the ALCS, a Rangers-Phillies Fall Classic would commence in the Lone Star State, with Nola presently in line to start only on the road. 

That’s a lot of qualifiers, of course. But there’s a legitimate chance Nola just made his 120th and final start at Citizens Bank Park with the Phillie. Only Cole Hamels, with whom Nola shared a locker room for just 10 days, has more in the ballpark’s 20-year history. The past nine seasons have been a roller-coaster for Nola, who slogged through years of a soul-sucking rebuild in order to reach this raucous October promised land.

A lot has changed with the veteran right-hander over the years.  

He debuted in July 2015, just 13 months after the Phillies selected him seventh overall out of LSU. At the time, the then-22-year-old had a noticeably thick Louisiana accent. It wasn’t quite the luscious, oozing Ben MacDonald, James Carville-style bayou drawl you’ll find south of Interstate 10, but a regional identifier nonetheless. Nearly a decade in the northeast has damped that drawl to just a slight tint of southernness. 

“When Aaron showed up at LSU, he was incredibly Louisiana,” retired college coaching legend Paul Manieri told FOX Sports.

Aaron Nola records 7 Ks in six innings in Phillies’ 10-0 win over D-backs

While that’s not as much the case anymore — Nola has an elaborate and expensive pour-over coffee system in his locker — little else about the Phillies hurler has changed. When he arrived on campus in 2012, Manieri saw a mature, polished pitcher with a slow heartbeat well beyond his years. That’s the same competitor Nola remains today.

“I never had to babysit him. He never got emotionally bent out of shape,” Manieri, 66, remembers. “When you talk to him one on one you get a sense for the quiet confidence. It’s not an act. 

“The one word I would use to describe him is unflappable.”

Phillies mash three homers in 10-0 victory vs. D-backs

Nola displayed that exact energy against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night. With Arizona threatening in the fourth inning, down just 2-0 at the time, Nola hardly flinched, retiring Lourdes Gurriel Jr. on a grounder to short. Two frames later, with the dangerous Walker up and a runner on second, Nola struck out the slugger with a curve on the sixth pitch of the at-bat.

As the crowd erupted, cheering on yet another scoreless inning, Nola remained emotionally unmoved. There was no fist pump, no “LET’S GO!” no sign of anything resembling excitement. He simply strolled quietly, head down, back to the Phillies dugout.  

The same path he’d trodded so many times before.

Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He played college baseball, poorly at first, then very well, very briefly. Jake lives in New York City where he coaches Little League and rides his bike, sometimes at the same time. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.

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