Phillies

Remembering what mattered most to Roy Halladay

Remembering what mattered most to Roy Halladay

I was there for the perfect game. I was there for the postseason no-hitter. I was there on that night when the Phillies clinched the division title in 2010 — his Cy Young season in Philadelphia — and he finally got to experience the euphoria of a champagne celebration. I was there when he pitched so valiantly and left a piece of his soul on the mound at Citizens Bank Park the night the 102-win season came to a crushing conclusion in a 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. I was there the night he walked off the mound in Miami for the last time in September 2013, his wounded right shoulder turned to spaghetti after pitching 15 seasons in the majors and reaching 220 innings eight times.

I saw all of Roy Halladay's highs and lows during his four seasons as a Phillie.

And, yet, my favorite memory of the man who left this world way too soon on Tuesday did not even happen in a game.

It happened in July 2011 during a memorable series at Wrigley Field. Halladay pitched the series opener on a Monday night and was forced to leave the game after the fourth inning because of dehydration. It was a scary scene. Wrigley Field was a pizza oven that night and Roy couldn't fight off the heat. At one point, it looked like he would pass out. He needed intravenous after the game. The next day, to the surprise of many, he pronounced himself fine and said he would be ready to make his next start. To prove it, he was the first one on the field Wednesday morning, ready to throw his between-starts bullpen sessions.

Halladay approached those between-starts bullpen sessions the way a surgeon approaches his work in the operating room. The expression "all business" does not even do it justice. No one got in his way. Nothing pierced his concentration. He would finish those sessions and walk straight to the training room for stretching and ice. It was all part of his almost robotic routine and anyone who got in his way would feel the sting of his icy glare.

But there were exceptions.

Roy Halladay had a huge competitor's heart. He also had a good heart and a soft spot for kids.

As Halladay went through his bullpen routine that Wednesday morning in Chicago, a tour group made its way through the stands. As the tour leader talked about the old ballpark, the group of fans couldn't help but rubberneck Halladay's work in the bullpen. Halladay finished the bullpen session, threw a towel over his shoulder and, still in the zone, started walking purposefully back to the dugout with pitching coach Rich Dubee. As Halladay got to the top step of the dugout and was about to disappear up the tunnel to the clubhouse, a young boy broke away from the tour group and shouted, "Roy!" Halladay stopped, looked around and saw the boy running his way. The pitcher waited for the boy to arrive at the dugout. He wiped sweat from his forearms and signed the kid's baseball. The boy looked for a moment at the prized autograph, then ran through the stands at empty Wrigley Field and rejoined the group. The kid got a lot more than a tour of the Friendly Confines that day.

That one moment with a kid in an empty ballpark in Chicago spoke volumes about Roy Halladay. He was always willing to make a kid's day. He was always willing to share a piece of himself with a young person who wanted to touch his greatness or learn from it. We saw it time and time again in Philadelphia. He took Kyle Kendrick under his wing. He bonded with Carlos Ruiz. He guided Cole Hamels.

"In order to be great at something, you have to have mentors, and he was one for me," the heartbroken Hamels said Tuesday night, just a few hours after learning of his friend's death in a plane crash at the way-too-young age of 40. "He made you push to a level that you didn't think you could reach. He raised my bar."

Guys like Kendrick, Ruiz and Hamels revered Halladay. He gave them so much and they wanted to give back to him. After the Phillies won the division in 2011, Ruiz said, "Gotta get Doc a ring." It didn't work out, of course. But not having a World Series ring did not diminish Halladay's career at all and he knew that. Yes, he pushed for a trade from Toronto to Philadelphia because he saw it as a way to put a World Series ring on his finger. But if you listened closely to Doc during his four seasons here, you know that he prioritized "enjoying the journey" more than anything — and he had quite a journey.

Most recently, his journey had taken him to the skies and to a tragic and unfathomable end, but his baseball journey had continued. He spent the spring and summer working part-time in the Phillies’ organization, mentoring young minor-league pitchers on the science of gaining a mental edge. He was also the proud pitching coach at Calvary Christian High School, just down the road from the Phillies’ ballpark in Clearwater, and he was coaching another youth team, as well. Back in March, he beamed as he talked about coaching those two teams. His sons, Braden and Ryan, were players on those teams and Roy was loving the time he got to spend with them around the game he loved so much.

Fathers ... sons ... baseball.

Gulp.

Man, there are so many reasons why this is difficult. So, so many. Roy Halladay's affinity and commitment to helping youngsters, from Little Leaguers to professionals, is a big one. The guy was always generous with his time and expertise and that will be missed.

So what is Roy Halladay's legacy? Cooperstown? Oh, yeah. That will happen. But his real legacy is still out there, and in some cases it's still developing. The guy touched a lot of young lives through baseball and surely some of those young lives will do great things with the lessons he imparted. I was there for the no-hitters and the other memorable moments of Roy Halladay's time in Philadelphia. But I'll remember most how much the kids always mattered to him.

Despite loss in finale, Phillies finish with successful road trip

Despite loss in finale, Phillies finish with successful road trip

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies won four out of six games on their road trip through the South and manager Gabe Kapler was happy with that. He said so in word after Wednesday night’s trip-ending, 7-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park (see first take). He said so in action in the eighth inning.

“All in all, you go on the road and you go 4-2, you feel good coming home,” Kapler said. “That's the biggest positive from this. We're going to go home stronger than when we left on this road trip. It's not an easy thing to do in baseball. I'm proud of our guys for doing that.”

Kapler’s satisfaction with the trip was evident even before the game ended. Lefty specialist Hoby Milner entered the game with one out in the eighth inning and the Phils down by two runs. His job, ostensibly, was to retire lefty hitters Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis. He retired neither. Up came right-handed hitting Kurt Suzuki. The situation screamed for a right-hander but Kapler stuck with Milner and he allowed an RBI single as the Braves pulled away with three runs in the inning to salt the game away.

Entering the game, Milner had allowed a .375 batting average (21 for 56) to right-handed hitters and a .158 (12 for 76) average to lefty hitters for his career. Despite this, Kapler did not even have a right-hander up in the bullpen. In fact, no one was up. Kapler indicated that he had faith that Milner could get the job done.

But there was more to it, as well.

“At that point it was time to look, in part, to save our bullpen,” Kapler said. “That was the right time to save our bullpen and put them in a good position to succeed going forward.”

Kapler’s thinking was not unheard of. Ask any manager and he’ll tell you, some nights you have to give the bullpen a break, take one step back for the chance to take two forward in subsequent days, and that’s just what Kapler did. After all, the ‘pen did pick up five innings the night before. But the flip side to this was the Phils were down only two runs with the middle of the order due up in the ninth. Keep the difference at two runs and maybe you can rally. Five runs — different story.

All this made one wonder if Kapler didn’t believe his offense could pull it out in the ninth.

“We always have full confidence that the guy on the mound can get outs,” Kapler said. “So this, at least, was as much about our belief in Hoby to be able to get outs in that situation, and, also, preserve arms in the bullpen. And, also, we believe in our offense to be able to come back and put a big number up. Always.”

The Phils ended up scoring a run in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. Vince Velasquez gave up a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth when he allowed a walk, a single and a three-run homer to new Phillie killer Ryan Flaherty. The Braves were in control the rest of the way. They have beaten the Phillies in four of six meetings this season.

Phillies end road trip with loss to Braves

Phillies end road trip with loss to Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Ryan Flaherty spent spring training with the Phillies on a minor-league contract. He hit .351 with three doubles, a homer and eight RBIs. He played in the infield and the outfield. Flaherty did enough to win a spot on the Phillies’ opening day roster, but was a victim of a numbers crunch so the team granted him his release in the final week of camp. 

In need of some help at third base after Johan Camargo went down with an oblique injury, the Braves signed Flaherty to a big-league deal and installed him as their opening day third baseman.

All Flaherty has done since joining the Braves is hit. He entered Wednesday hitting .354, fifth best in the majors and .130 points better than his career average. He’s been especially tough on the Phillies. He swatted a three-run home run Wednesday night and the Phillies never recovered in a 7-3 loss at SunTrust Park. Flaherty also had an RBI single in the game.

In six games against the Phillies this season, Flaherty has 11 hits, including three doubles and a homer. Despite Flaherty’s strong start, the Braves appear to be making other plans at third base. Camargo came off the disabled list on Wednesday and the team also signed veteran Jose Bautista with the intention of looking at him at third base when he’s ready to go.

Flaherty’s three-run home run came against Vince Velasquez in the fifth inning.

Velasquez had helped himself with an RBI single in the top of the fifth to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead. But the right-hander let the lead get away quickly when he allowed a leadoff walk, a single and Flaherty’s three-run homer all with no outs in the bottom of the inning.

Flaherty hit a first-pitch fastball that registered 94 mph.

Those were the only runs that Velasquez allowed in six innings of work. He struck out seven and walked one. That walk became a run.

Braves starter Brandon McCarthy held the Phillies to one run over 5 1/3 innings.

The Phillies ended up losing two out of three in the series and are 2-4 against the Braves on the season. The Phils did not do a lot of scoring in this series. They lost the opener, 2-1. They won the second game, 5-1, but scored four of their runs in the 10th inning. They scored just three runs in the finale.

They probably would have had one more run if it weren’t for Ender Inciarte. The Braves’ defensive whiz centerfielder rose above the wall in left-center to steal a home run away from Scott Kingery in the first inning. Inciarte, like Flaherty, was once Phillies property, a former Rule 5 pick that the club chose not to keep around.