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The Nola brothers never played together at Catholic High in Baton Rouge. They barely played for one season at LSU.
And they almost never played Major League Baseball at the same time, because one of them considered retiring in the minor leagues.
“We could’ve never imagined this in a playoff atmosphere,” Austin, the older Nola, said before the series. “I can tell you right now, we always imagined facing each other in the big leagues. But I don’t think we ever imagined it in the championship series.”
Philadelphia right-handed starter Aaron Nola is scheduled to open the second game on Wednesday (4:30 p.m., FOX, FS1). And Austin is expected to start at catcher and bat against him.
“How cool is that,” said former LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri, who coached both the only year they ever played on the same team with the Tigers in 2012. “This is so great. I know they couldn’t be happier for one another. Austin loves Aaron, and Aaron so looks up to Austin and loves him.”
Austin Nola helped lead Mainieri’s LSU team to the 2009 national championship as a freshman.
Late that season, Mainieri inserted Nola into the lineup at shortstop for better defense and moved the shortstop to second base. That was future three-time MLB All-Star second baseman DJ LeMahieu, now with the New York Yankees.
Aaron Nola has faced his brother Austin in just two games in pro baseball. On August 21, 2021, in San Diego, little brother retired big brother twice, including once with a strikeout on three fastballs – 95.2 mph, 95.9, and 96.2 – in a 4-3 win by the Padres. Then Aaron gave his brother the ball used on the strikeout for Christmas.
Austin got his revenge this season on June 24 when he hit an opposite-field, RBI single for the game-winning hit in a 1-0 win in San Diego. Nola was 1-for-5 against Nola entering Wednesday’s game with a strikeout and a walk.
This will be just the sixth time in Major League Baseball history that two brothers have opposed one another in the postseason and the first time since 1997 when catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. of Cleveland played against second baseman Roberto Alomar of Baltimore. Cleveland advanced to the World Series before losing to the Florida Marlins.
Austin Nola spent more than seven years in the minor leagues in such towns as Greensboro, N.C., for the Grasshoppers, Jamestown, New York, for the Jammers, Scottsdale, Arizona, for the Salt River Rafters, Jupiter and Jacksonville, Florida, New Orleans and Tacoma, Washington, before his debut with the Seattle Mariners in 2019.
Austin Was Near The End Before A Position Change
Drafted as a shortstop in the fifth round in 2012 by the Miami Marlins, Austin was considering hanging it up in 2016 while with triple-A New Orleans until hitting coach Paul Phillips advised he move to catcher.
His outlook improved in 2017 and 2018 as a catcher in double-A Jacksonville and New Orleans. He signed as a free-agent catcher with Seattle before the 2019 season, made his MLB debut on June 16, 2019, with the Mariners. He was traded at mid-season in 2020 to San Diego, made his postseason debut that year and has become its regular catcher.
“I put about 40 players in the Major Leagues as a college coach,” said Mainieri, who was head coach at St. Thomas, Air Force and Notre Dame, before LSU. “And I was never happier for a kid than when Austin made it. It was one of my favorite days. He deserved it, and he should’ve made it as a shortstop.”
Aaron Nola, 29, reached MLB on July 21, 2015, after being drafted with the seventh pick of the first round by the Phillies on June 5, 2014, becoming the first Phillies pitcher since Pat Combs in 1989 to make his Big League debut a year after being drafted.
“Aaron said he was more happy when Austin reached the Majors than he was when he made it,” Mainieri said.
Aaron Nola, who struck out 235 this regular season in 205 innings with 29 walks, is in the postseason for the first time in his Major League career. He pitched for LSU in the College World Series in 2013, taking a 2-1 opening loss to eventual champion UCLA after allowing four hits and one run in seven innings. He finished 12-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 126 innings.
Houston Astro star third baseman Alex Bregman was one of LSU’s leading hitters that season at shortstop at .369 as the Tigers finished 57-11 and 23-7 in the SEC.
When the Nolas played together for the only time in 2012, the Tigers won the SEC at 19-11 as Austin hit .299 with four home runs and 43 RBIs. Aaron was 7-4 with a 3.61 ERA as a freshman with 89 strikeouts in 89 and two-thirds innings with seven walks. Nola was 12-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 126 innings with 18 walks in 2013. He is the only player ever to win the SEC pitcher of the year award twice – in 2013 and ’14.
Toronto Tried To Move The Nola Reunion Away From LSU
And it almost didn’t happen. When Austin was a senior at Catholic High in 2008, Aaron was a freshman, but he did not play on the varsity.
“Thank God for that,” Mainieri said. “When Austin decided to stay for his senior season at LSU in 2012, that helped us get Aaron to come to LSU because the brothers wanted to play on the same team for the first time.”
Toronto tried to stop the brothers from an LSU reunion by picking Aaron from high school in the 22nd round and Austin from LSU in the 31st round in the 2011 draft.
“If Austin had gone pro, I think Aaron may have gone pro,” Mainieri said. “I was so glad they came to us. I got to coach a Nola for six straight years.”
Now, if they can just play for a year or a few on the same team in Major League Baseball.