By Mike Prince, Sportswriter:
Philadelphia – When Roy Halladay came to Philadelphia, he not only brought with him the best arm in baseball, but he brought with him an unwavering confidence that allows him to go out and perform like he did on Wednesday.
He had waited his entire life for this. He came out of the dugout, walked up to the mound and began an illustration of dominance that was so remarkable, even the man himself may not have been to comprehend what just happened by the time he walked out of Citizens Bank Park on this magical night in October.
In his previous 12 seasons, Halladay had pitched in a total of zero postseason games. And if Wednesday was any sign of what’s to come, then it’s clear that the postseason was missing out on Halladay as much as Halladay was missing out on the postseason.
It still seems impossible that it happened, but to a fault, it almost makes sense. If this was the start that Halladay has been waiting his entire illustrious career for – a career that includes seven All-Star appearances, 169 wins and a Cy Young Award – then why couldn’t he write his own script?
After all, he did choose where he wanted to play and everything has gone according to plan, thus far.
The script began with Halladay leaving millions of dollars on the table to come to Philadelphia – a place where he thought would give him the best shot at finally being able to pitch in the playoffs. It followed with 33 starts, nine complete games and 250 2/3 innings of work during what turned out to be his best regular season in his 13 years in Major League Baseball. And after Wednesday, it’s on the page that features the most dominating performance of his career – and that includes pitching a perfect game earlier this year.
Halladay had just pitched the second postseason no-hitter in the history of baseball – the first in 54 years – lifting the Phillies to a 4-0 Game 1 win over the visiting Reds in the National League Division Series. He threw only 25 balls while facing 28 batters. He needed only 104 pitches and was one walk – one pitch, in fact – from tossing a perfect game. He allowed only one hard hit ball, struck out eight batters and even drove in a run at the plate.
“It’s surreal,” Halladay said following the game. ” It really is. I just wanted to pitch here, to pitch in the postseason. To go out and have a game like that, it’s a dream come true.”
Between the 46,411 fans in attendance, the other eight players on the field, the coaches and the remaining roster in the dugout and the millions watching at home, there is little doubt that Halladay was the least nervous person in the entire city of Philadelphia.
Halladay, as modest as he is, would tell you that the only thing on his mind was getting the win. And while Wednesday was about much more than just a win, the 33-year-old pitcher won’t admit that.
“I think you try to disconnect yourself from the emotions a little bit,” he said. “Knowing that you’ve prepared yourself, you’re ready, and you try to go out and execute your plan. But it’s fun for me. I was excited.”
Halladay certainly executed his plan, and in doing so, made history.
After a game that took only two hours, 34 minutes to complete, he became only the second Phillies pitcher (Curt Schilling) to throw a shutout in a postseason game. He became the fifth pitcher to toss two no-hitters in the same year and the first pitcher in baseball history to toss a perfect game and a no-hitter in the same season. And besides Don Larson’s perfect game, there were only two other instances in which a pitcher took a no-hitter into the eighth inning.
No other pitcher in the history of baseball had ever pitched in as many games while having a winning percentage as high as Halladay did without ever stepping foot on the mound for a postseason game. To say the Phillies ace had time to prepare for this game is an understatement. To say that he met expectations is an even bigger understatement.
In no-hitting the Reds, Halladay threw a first-pitch strike to 25 of 28 batters. No Reds hitter reached 2-0 and only one reached 2-1. No hitter reached a 3-1 count. The Reds hit just four balls in play out of the infield all game and of the 104 pitches that Cincinnati batters faced, 79 were strikes, with only 16 pitches being thrown over the middle of the plate.
Like an artist working on his masterpiece, Halladay painted the inside and outside corners of the plate, using his fastball, his curveball and his change-up perfectly, while using his offspeed pitch at just the right moments to deceive the hitters he faced. Determined to finish this unprecedented feat, he struck out Scott Rolen three times and shut down an offense that led the National League in batting average, runs and homers during the regular season.
“He was filthy,” Rollins said to the media after the game when asked about Halladay’s performance. “Filthy, like just completely filthy.”
With the sellout crowd on their feet, chanting “Let’s go Doc!” and creating a type of atmosphere that you only see in a game seven of a playoff series, Halladay took the mound in the ninth inning for one last time on the night.
The Reds sent Ramon Hernandez to the plate. He popped out to second base to Chase Utley for the first out of the inning. Pinch-hitter Miguel Cairo followed with a foul pop to third baseman Wilson Valdez and finally, leadoff hitter Brandon Phillips was retired on a soft tapper in front of home plate. Catcher Carlos Ruiz, without panicking, pounced on the ball, looked up towards first base and while on two knees, used a strong, perfect throw to record the final out and send the Phillies and the 46,000+ in attendance into a frenzy.
“If I was catching, I probably would’ve picked up the ball and bat and threw them both,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
Ruiz pumped his fist, ran up to a smiling Halladay and the two jumped up and hugged, reminiscent of the celebration after the May 29 perfect game against the Florida Marlins. Howard next reached the pitcher’s mound, the rest of the Phillies then joined in the jubilation and yet again, Philadelphia fans had something to cheer about and more importantly, something to look forward to.
At 7:42 p.m in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Halladay earned himself a spot in baseball lore with a performance for the ages. It was just another chapter in the script that the right-handed pitcher is apparently writing himself. But it’s certainly not the last. Instead, there is only one way for this script to end, and that’s with Halladay adding pretty much the only achievement that he doesn’t currently have: A World Series championship.
After what he did in his first career postseason start, is there even anything that Halladay will let stand in the way of him and the ultimate goal?
To Halladay, the only thing that matters right now is to get past the first round.
“We’re one game up,” Halladay said after the win. “Let’s win two more.”
It’s hard to believe that the Phillies still have Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels ready to pitch the next two games of the series. It’s hard to believe that anything Halladay did on Wednesday was real. It’s hard to believe that Halladay may only get better as the playoffs continue. It’s hard to believe….
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