PHILADELPHIA — The Phillies honored Tigers Nick Maton and Matt Vierling before Monday’s game in a touching ceremony by presenting them their National League championship rings for their roles on last year’s Phillies squad. Maton got a hug from Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, a salute from the Phanatic, some howls from the other dugout and an ovation from the crowd of 33,196 at Citizens Bank Park.
“It’s cool to see all those guys,” Maton said. “We built something pretty cool last year, as far as camaraderie and getting along. You’ve seen this with this group as well. You’ve seen how we act when we’re rolling. That’s what winning teams do.”
The crowd turned on Maton, now a visiting player, as quickly as Maton turned on Aaron Nola’s 0-2 curveball with two outs in the seventh inning to break up his no-hit bid. And as Maton rounded the bases on his three-run home run off his former teammate, he played the role of villain with aplomb.
From the moment the ball left the bat, it was clear the no-hitter and shutout were over. Maton dropped the bat like he was dropping the mic. As he rounded second base, he looked back at the right-field stands. He skipped and shuffled the final few feet to home plate.
It was a small consolation in the Tigers’ 8-3 loss, but it was closure on a day of mixed emotions for Maton, who was traded to Detroit with Vierling in January for Gregory Soto and Kody Clemens.
“Nola, he’s a super good dude,” Maton said. “He took care of all the young guys over there. I got to know him very, very well. I was pumped. He got me one, and I was able to get to it. It was cool.”
Nola could smile about it afterward.
“That was kind of a dagger, right? Especially because Maton hit it,” he told reporters.
Asked if he expects to hear about it from Maton, Nola said, “For the rest of my life.”
Nola was seven outs away from a no-hitter. Three walks and an Edmundo Sosa error on a Javier Báez grounder had accounted for all of Detroit’s baserunners. Sosa had just redeemed himself with a diving stop down the third-base line on Spencer Torkelson’s hard-hit grounder when Maton stepped to the plate.
Nola fanned Maton on a 3-2 curveball his first time up. He tried the same on another full count in the fifth inning, but Maton laid off it for a walk. With two on in the seventh, Nola threw Maton four consecutive curveballs, three of them hangers. Maton fouled off two, was called on a checked swing in between, and crushed the last.
“It’s no joke; everybody knows what they’re going to throw me,” Maton said. “But I was able to get to it, and I feel like I’ve been seeing a lot better over these past couple weeks as far as the curveballs and offspeeds go.”
The Tigers needed that, not only to avoid suffering their first no-hitter since Henderson Alvarez on the final day of the 2013 season, but to inject some life into a Tigers offense that had gone largely dormant since Riley Greene went on the injured list.
Maton needed that, having gone 4-for-30 since his last home run on May 21. The noted fastball masher has been fed breaking balls and offspeed pitches all season. He saw almost as many breaking pitches (120) as fastballs (121) in May, according to Statcast. He had a 43 percent whiff rate on breaking balls for the month.
The diet hasn’t changed much in June, but the discipline has, with Maton dropping his swing-and-miss rate on breaking balls.
“First off, I have to get the ones I’m able to hit,” Maton said. “I mean, they don’t throw me very many that are in the zone. It seems like they’d rather walk me than just give me a cookie like that. But when they are in the zone, [the key is] being able to not be too ahead of myself, coming off it, staying through the middle of the field, not turning off stuff and dealing with those balls that I can hit.”
Said manager A.J. Hinch: “We need him to get going. We need him to do exactly what he did tonight. It was a good homer at an opportune time. Nice play at third. He’s a good player who hasn’t really gotten untracked very consistently, but he’s finding a way to produce.”