OK. I’m not going to recap every Phils playoff game, as I did last year: too busy right now.
But, you know, last night something special happened, and I can’t let it go. (If you want an excellent summary of all three of yesterday’s games, see Andy Wolfenson’s post of today.)
But to understand how truly wonderful Roy Halladay’s no-hitter was, it helps to know the background.
Roy Halladay pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays for 12 seasons. He established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball, winning 20 games twice and capturing the American League Cy Young Award, as the league’s best pitcher, in 2003.
He spent those 12 years on a team that was always looking up in the standings at the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox: his Blue Jays never did better than one second-place finish in the American League East. The last two years, they stumbled to fourth in the five-team division.
Halladay, now in his early thirties, could see his chances of pitching in the postseason—of winning a championship—evaporating.
Then, last summer, opportunity dangled before him. The Philadelphia Phillies, coming off two playoff appearances and a World Series victory in 2008, were trying to trade for Halladay. Halladay’s career was on the precipice of a most welcome reboot.
Then the trade fell through. Toronto’s general manager insisted that the Phils include a young prospect that they were unwilling to let go, and Phils general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr., traded with the Cleveland Indians for lefthanded starter Cliff Lee instead.
Halladay’s dream of postseason baseball had been snatched away.
Think of how Halladay must have felt in the fall, when the Phils made it to the World Series one more time, and Lee, pitching masterfully, won four games for them.
In the offseason, the Phillies finally worked out a deal with Toronto to obtain Halladay. They were willing to make the trade—and give up the prospect that they had previously balked at sacrificing—for two reasons. First, Halladay is a tremendous pitcher. Second, he was willing to sign a contract extension that was worth far less than he could have gotten as a free agent. Halladay signed for just three years at $60 million—$20 million a year. The year before, C.C. Sabathia had signed with the New York Yankees for seven years at $161 million—$23 million a year. Halladay arguably gave up more money in salary than his contract was worth.*
He just wanted a chance to win.
Halladay arrived with a reputation for hard work and discipline. He proved that this reputation is well deserved throughout spring training, when he arrived every day at the Phils’ training complex at 5:30 in the morning, to begin his workouts.
He proved it 33 times during the season, when he took the ball on his regular turn to pitch, threw his best, and then, forty-five minutes or so after the game, retired to the workout room to do his post-start workout.
He proved it in May, when he threw a perfect game against the Florida Marlins—retiring all 27 batters without allowing any to reach base—and then did his postgame workout.
He proved it a week and a half ago, when, with the opportunity to clinch the Phils’ NL East division title, he pitched a two-hit complete game shutout of the Washington Nationals and, when he finished, smiled on the field for only the second time in the entire season.
Halladay had a great season. He went 21-10, sported an impressive 2.44 Earned Run Average, had a league-leading 9 complete games, threw 4 shutouts, led the National League in innings pitched with 250-2/3, and finished second in the league in strikeouts with 231.
But what mattered to him was making the playoffs, finally having a chance to compete in the postseason, finally having a chance to be on a championship team.
Last night, after 346 starts in his career and 13 long seasons, Roy Halladay started his first postseason game. He followed the same routine he always follows before a game.
Then he went out and made history, throwing a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds to become only the second pitcher in history (Don Larsen being the first, in 1956) to pitch a no hitter in a postseason game. A fifth-inning walk was the only thing that prevented Halladay from matching Larsen’s perfect game. In the process, Halladay became the only pitcher in history to throw a no-hitter in both the regular season and the postseason the same year. (Four others have thrown two no-hitters in the same season.)
Using all four of his pitches and working both sides of the plate (but never, as Reds manager Dusty Baker pointed out, the middle), Halladay shut down the Reds lineup—which was only the lineup that had led the National League in batting average, home runs, and runs this season.
Halladay’s first pitch was a strike to 25 of the 28 batters he faced. He reached a three-ball count on just three batters in the game. Three. Of the 104 pitches he threw, 79 were strikes—a better than three-to-one ratio of strikes to balls. He struck out 8 batters and walked but 1.
And those numbers do not tell how good he was. He didn’t just get the Reds out. He baffled them. They were flailing. They had no clue what pitch was coming or where it was going to be.
What was Halladay’s response after the game when his teammates poured onto the mound to congratulate him for his achievement? “We’re one game up,” he told them. “We’ve got to win two more.”
Later, after he did all the postgame interviews, Halladay finally went to his locker room in the Phils’ clubhouse. The team had left him a bottle of champagne, so he could celebrate his achievement.
Instead, he walked off into another room. Probably he was getting ready for his postgame workout.
* Yes, I’d take $15 million a year, too. No, he’s not hurting. Yes, the salaries are obscene, as are those of actors, singers, and such like. No, I don’t feel bad for him. Yes, sports are silly and will not end racism, injustice, world hunger, or poverty. No, I will not stop watching them.
Words © 2010 AtHome Pilgrim.
All Rights Reserved.