By Kevin Franklin:
It reads backwards the same way: Wow.
It’s been several hours since the Phillies elbowed the Reds in the sternum, 4-0, in the opening salvo of the best of five National League Divisional Series. Several hours after Roy Halladay kicked open the record books and cleat-stamped his name. Several hours after speechless fans, players and media types lost the words to describe just what an amazing performance this was.
Maybe that’s why it has taken me this long to write something myself.
Let’s not kid ourselves. As Phillies fans, we all knew what we were getting when Halladay pulled on the number 34 at his introductory news conference. We knew we were getting a former Cy Young winner, the consummate pro and a pitcher who eschewed the chance to make a cajillion dollars in free agency in 2011 just to have the chance to pitch in the post season in 2010 and beyond in red pinstripes. He was a big game hunter who thrived against big game competition in New York and Boston in the American League. While other pitchers were justifiably content to hang their deer and bear heads over their fireplace, Roy Halladay was gunning down Tyrannosaurus Rexes. He also didn’t need to display his trophies. When you’re Roy freaking Halladay, people just know.
This season, we have had the opportunity to watch him work his craft in our backyard. He’s the local guy now, our guy, and with that comes some high expectations, namely: 1) You had better be successful and 2) should you dare not be successful, you had better make damn sure you bust your butt. Aaron Rowand never has to make an apology to Philadelphia fans for the rest of his life; the same goes for Brian Dawkins and Ian Laperriere. Add Roy Halladay to that list.
To be honest, he made that list a while back this year. 21 wins, a perfect game, Olympian-level dedication to his craft and the Carlton-esque confidence the fan base adopts when he takes the mound are reasons enough. In a series, let alone a playoff series, you don’t ask who Halladay is facing; you ask who Oswalt and Hamels are facing. Come to think of it, you really don’t even think about who those two are facing either, and it all starts with the man they call Doc Halladay.
Oh, the game? What more could be said about a no-hitter that was one walk away from being a perfect game? The Reds looked like the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest trying their hands at fly fishing. The odd lunge here, the perplexed gaze there, the need for medication later… Joey Votto, the mercurial Cincinnati slugger tried stepping out of the batter’s box to throw off Halladay’s rhythm, but when you’re a successful Doc, you have a lot of patience (insert groan here). And like the similarly-named gunslinger of the Old West, he made quick work of the opponent. The streets of Philadelphia ran Cincinnati red with blood while a full house of full-throated fans showed their full support – and left overly filled. But for Roy Halladay, this was just what he expects of himself and what we have come to expect of him. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not counting on throwing a no-hitter every time he pitches, but he expects his last pitch to be as good as his first, and there is little doubt he would have changed his approach to the last hitter, Brandon Phillips, even if he had already given up 10 hits.
Now comes the scary part: there were very few pitchers who were better down the stretch than Roy Halladay, but two of them just might be the game 2 and 3 starters, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels – and Joe Blanton, who most of us would prefer to see kicking back and relaxing until Game 4 of the NLCS, was just a step below. Think back to the beginning of the season. There was Halladay and…well, there was Halladay. After his 2009 unraveling, we trusted Cole Hamels as much as a cheating spouse. Jamie Moyer, despite his penchant for coming up big from time to time and piling up more wins each year than we realized, wasn’t what we felt a World Series team should have even in the middle of the rotation. Joe Blanton? Well, he was injured and he was kind of solid. Sometimes he pitched solidly and sometimes he was hit just as solidly. J.A. Happ? Kyle Kendrick? They were hope, mostly; hope that Happ’s rookie year wasn’t a fluke and hope that Kendrick wasn’t going to be counted on to play a significant role in the rotation. I’m not even going to bother bringing up the bullpen after what transpired in 2009. Tonight is a happy occasion, after all…
To make a long story even longer, everything fell apart, well, except for Roy Halladay, who delivered just what he promised. Then a funny thing happened. General Manager, Ruben Amaro, Jr., traded the promise of Happ for the wily, country-tough Roy Oswalt. Cole Hamels returned to the prodigal son form of 2008 and the Phillies rampaged through the National League like bloodthirsty Huns. None of this would have happened without #34 at the top of the rotation. Hamels didn’t need to save the world early in the season and maybe Amaro would have just gritted his teeth and let the season play out without acquiring Oswalt if the team was not tethered to Halladay. He is the Statue of Liberty of Philadelphia, saying, “Give me your hustle, your defense, your one-run leads and I’ll go at least eight innings.”
In the end, the empiricists will say, “Hey, it’s a 1-0 series no matter if it was a no-hitter or a 10-9 game of a 20-0 game. It’s just one game.” Yeah. I get that. However, tonight’s performance wasn’t just about tonight. It was a sheet of music ripped from Mozart’s library whose next work may not be as good, but it’s still Mozart. And like Wolfgang Amadeus, he makes everyone in the orchestra better. So we won’t be surprised if Oswalt takes the mantle and bedazzles the Reds Friday night and Hamels does the same in Game 3. We thought this team was going to have to out-slug the opponent three or four times out of every five games when the season started. Hey, it feels good to be wrong when you have Roy flipping Halladay toeing the rubber.
It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions of the moment. The pitching staff is solid, Brad Lidge has come a long way to rehabilitating his reputation as a closer this year, setup man Ryan Madson is pitching the best baseball of his career, the Phillies are hitting much better than earlier this year, the injuries have almost all healed, they’re stealing bases prolifically again, their defense has been air-tight, an historic no-hitter was just thrown at home in the opening game of the playoffs, Game 2 can’t get here fast enough, this is the strongest Phillies team of all time, there really is no other team that provides significant consternation through the end of the post-season and we have Roy Freaking Halladay!
Kevin Franklin writes for PSC. Read his past articles here…
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