ST. PETERSBURG — Zac Eflin let out nearly every emotion on Tuesday.
The weirdness of throwing a longtime former Phillies teammate against him. Excitement and anxiety mix in half and half. I am proud to be playing against his best friend and big brother in baseball, Aaron Nola. The thrill of competition. The fun of subtle feedback.
And finally, frustration with how the Rays fell short of 3-1 on a quiet Fourth of July.
“It’s a shame we lost that game to the Phillies,” Ephrin said.
“But let me tell you, I enjoyed every day competing with them, and in a way it was fun throwing it back and competing with them. , I had to play my best friend, so I wish I could have won the match as well as he did, but I’m very happy for him and (Wednesday ) I look forward to getting the series right.”
The loss marked the Rays’ third straight loss, the second consecutive three-game losing streak in the past two-and-a-half weeks, and their 12th loss in their last 22 games, dropping them to an American League-leading record of 57-31.
Ephrin certainly did his part on Tuesday, pitching seven innings, allowing two runs and four hits while striking out nine. But Nora did better, shutting out eight innings before allowing a one-out home run to newly AL All-Star Wonder Franco in his 104th and final pitch. Nora allowed only four other hits and recorded a career-high tie of 12 strikeouts.
Director Kevin Cash said Nora was the difference.
“In the end, he beat us,” Cash said. “There were a lot of swings and mistakes. I know he struck out a lot. But (Tuesday) I couldn’t do it.”
Ephrin and Nora have been friends since playing together in Double-A for the Phillies in 2015 and were close enough to attend each other’s weddings. Both teams had a day off on Monday, so they spent some time together before saying good luck to each other before parting, Nora said. It wasn’t too bad. “
Both said it was strange to face off.
Nora likened it to playing against his brother Austin, a Padres catcher.
“It’s kind of an emotion, a nerve,” he said. “But it was great, dude. It was fun facing Eph. We’ve been together for a very long time. He was mean again tonight. He was rolling as usual. He was He was always quick. Every time I sat in the dugout, he was giving every player two strikes. It was vintage for him. It was fun playing against him.”
Ephrin also acknowledged how different it is.
“It was weird throwing with Nora on this side as opposed to being with him in the dugout,” he said. “This game was more frustrating than any of the World Series or the playoffs last year.
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“But I am so grateful for Aaron’s friendship and guidance and what a teammate he is. He’s been a big brother throughout my career and really helped me find myself in the major leagues, so this time I got to hang out with him and just watch him from afar. was really cool.”
Ephrin got off to a good start, striking out three in the first and two quickouts in the second, but then allowed back-to-back doubles to Bryson Stott and Alec Bohm on six pitches.
The 1-0 lead was doubled through the seventh inning by Bryce Harper and scored on Stott’s single after an error by Franco allowed JT Realmut to reach. The Phillies added off reliever Jaylen Beeks in the eighth inning. The Rays scored back one on Franco’s home run.
Ephrin has become intimate with players at many positions in the Phillies, especially with Realmut, who has caught him for most of the past four seasons and even more so when he made a remarkable run for the National League pennant last year. was strong. Seeing his former teammates in the batter’s box and doing a brain teaser to figure out what they were thinking added to the challenge of the day.
“It felt really weird, but it was really fun,” Ephrin said.
With the business portion of the visit wrapped up, Ephrin said he’s looking forward to spending more time relaxing with his former teammates over the next two days, plus receiving his 2022 National League championship ring on Wednesday.
“There were a lot of smiles and a lot of little comments as people ran off the field, so it was honestly a fun game,” Ephrin said. “I had a really good time and was happy to see some familiar faces.”
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