Major League Player Of The Year: Roy Halladay
Roy Halladay got our attention with a perfect game in May. He solidified his spot in the record books five months later with just the second no-hitter in postseason history.
But to simply say he made history on Oct. 6 doesn't do this justice. Saying he pitched the second postseason no-hitter in the history of the sport doesn't begin to describe it. To say he pitched a baseball game that people will talk about for the rest of his life doesn't truly capture the magnitude of it.
So let's look back on the masterpiece that propelled the Phillies to a three-game sweep of the Reds in the National League Division Series, and cemented Halladay as the correct choice as Baseball America's Major League Player of the Year.
Halladay headed for the mound that Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park to do something he'd waited a lifetime for.
He hadn't merely thought about this, hadn't merely dreamed about this, for just about ever. He'd forced himself to rewrite the story of his whole career.
Halladay had asked the only team he'd ever pitched for, the Blue Jays, to trade him last winter. He asked specifically to be traded to the Phillies, for a chance to live out this day.
Halladay left millions of dollars on the table to make it happen. He ground his way through 2502/3 grueling innings, launched 3,568 max-effort pitches, all for this.
He did it all, just for a chance to walk to the pitcher's mound on an electrifying afternoon in October and push himself to rise to meet a moment that, for the first 12 seasons of his remarkable career, had seemed to be a part of the life of every pitcher in baseball except his.
So think about what happened on this day one more time. How could anyone write this script?
"That," said Phillies closer Brad Lidge, after Halladay's instant no-hit October classic, "was pretty amazing.
"For him to want this opportunity so bad," Lidge went on, "for him to let us know, 'Hey, I want to be with your team,' . . . and then to bring him over here and do what he did in the regular season, and then doing this in his first (postseason) game . . . It just seems like this guy is in complete control of his destiny."
Pitcher Of Destiny
Maybe that's what this was, all right: destiny. It's as sensible an explanation for what happened here as anything. Maybe this man is just so talented, and so driven, that he could almost will this to happen.
There had been 1,264 postseason baseball games before Halladay took the ball in his playoff debut. Only one of them turned out remotely like this one—Don Larsen's storied 1956 World Series perfecto.
Just two other times in postseason history had any pitcher even taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning: Jim Lonborg (72/3 hitless) in the 1967 World Series, and Bill Bevens (82/3 hitless) in the 1947 World Series. So even to see a man get so close that it came time to start counting down the outs was a heart-thumping experience.
Of course, Halladay had already thrown one no-hitter himself this season—a May 29 perfect game in Florida. No pitcher had ever thrown a regular-season no-hitter and a postseason no-hitter in the same season. So you can add that stunning wrinkle to this improbable script.
On the day he made history, Doc Halladay was so untouchable, the identity of the hitters he steamrollered was almost irrelevant. And once his offense handed him four runs in the first two innings, he was going to win, going to dominate. His catcher, Carlos Ruiz, swore he knew that before Halladay had even finished warming up in the bullpen at 4:45 in the afternoon.
Knew It Before
Asked afterward how good Halladay's stuff was out there, Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz summed it up in three words: "Oh, my God."
"He was consistent on both sides of the plate," Ruiz said. "His fastball was good. His cutter was good. He had everything today."
Think about what it must have been like for this man to walk out to that bullpen, knowing what this day meant—a day he'd pictured in his imagination for so long. Of course, Halladay would never allow himself to get lost in that moment, would never allow himself to get distracted by a thought like that. Asked about his thoughts and emotions as this game approached, he was as cool, as focused, as programmed as ever.
"It was pretty normal, really," Halladay said of his pregame feelings. "I think you try and disconnect yourself from the emotions a little bit. Knowing that you've prepared yourself, you're ready.
"I think once the game started, I got out there and I felt like I was able to do that. I wasn't thinking about all that stuff—first playoffs or any of that. It was 'Go out and try and execute a plan.' And that made it a lot easier."
"But it's been fun for me. It's been a challenge that I look forward to. So 'excited,' I guess, is a better word to describe it than 'nervous.' I was excited. It was a lot of fun to look forward to pitching in this game."
Halladay is a strike-throwing machine every day of every year. But this was different. He faced 28 hitters—and threw 25 first-pitch strikes. He went to 0-and-2 on 11 hitters—but went 2-and-0 on none. He never ran a 3-and-0 count or even a 3-and-1 count. It took him 47 pitches before he threw his 10th pitch out of the strike zone.
Of the 28 hitters who came to the plate, one managed to square a ball up and hit it hard. And that was the one hitter Halladay hadn't prepared for—Reds reliever Travis Wood. But Jayson Werth ran down Wood's third-inning line drive to right. And not only was that the only ball close to a hit, it was practically the only good swing the Reds took.
"It's almost," the Reds' Jonny Gomes said, "like he's got another gear when his team gives him the lead. And that was even more true today."
By the time Halladay reached the mound for the final inning, it was 7:35 p.m. Though the ballpark was in a frenzy, the man on the mound just kicked at the dirt around the rubber, then turned and awaited his next victim.
That would be the catcher, Ramon Hernandez. Two pitches later, he popped up a cutter. Next was pinch-hitter Miguel Cairo, who flailed at a 2-and-2 curveball in and popped out to third baseman Wilson Valdez.The final batter, second baseman Brandon Phillips, tapped a swinging bunt in front of home plate. Ruiz charged out after it, only to come upon the bat Phillips had just dropped and the spinning baseball, all converging in the same place. Ruiz had to dodge the bat, find the baseball, drop to one knee and snake his throw around the runner.
"That was real difficult right there, with a no-hitter going," the soft-spoken catcher from Panama would say later. "If I don't make that play, oh my God, I'm gonna feel bad."
OK, so it wasn't the World Series. It was "only" Game 1 of the division series. So we should all make at least some slight distinction between the meaning of what Larsen did 54 years ago, almost to the day, and what Halladay did Wednesday.
Halladay's road to this perfect game, and this award, was no ordinary journey. It was 13 years and 169 regular-season wins in the making. One other pitcher in the division-play era (Chuck Finley) won more games before he made his first postseason start. No other pitcher had pitched this many games and had this good a winning percentage (.663) without throwing a single postseason pitch.
So we'll never know now how Roy Halladay would have looked at his career if this day had never come. But we know now, because it did, exactly how we'll look at it for the rest of time.