Originally published April 5, 2010
Sometimes you look at Roy Halladay and wonder: Does this guy ever smile?
It’s not that he’s a big meanie or anything like that. Quite the contrary. He’s a very nice guy. Polite. Cordial. Kind to small animals and old ladies.
But this Halladay fella, you might have noticed, is sort of intense, especially when it comes to his craft. As the Phillies’ new ace, Halladay will pitch every fifth day. He will spend the four days between starts preparing his body and mind with military-like intensity. Game day or between starts, this guy seldom deviates from his plan, his mission. Blinders on. Station to station. Nothing gets in the way. Get the work done.
And, of course, no smiling.
Until the job is completed — successfully.
We saw it. We saw Halladay smile late Monday afternoon. He did it while receiving congratulations from his teammates. He did it while speaking with reporters. He did again as a few teammates razzed him about taking so long in the postgame exercise room that he nearly delayed the team bus.
The smile was the residue of Halladay’s wildly successful Phillies’ debut.
The 32-year-old righthander allowed just one run over seven innings in the Phillies’ season-opening 11-1 victory over the Washington Nationals. He struck out nine and even drove in a run.
It was just the type of day Halladay dreamed about having when he first started fantasizing about joining the Phillies last July.
“I had a blast,” he said. “It was everything I’ve expected so far.”
Like the way he said so far?
If you’re into championships, you should.
Halladay didn’t will his way to Philadelphia to win season openers. He’s in Philadelphia to win playoff series openers and World Series openers.
But for now, April 5, 2010, is all he has.
Halladay’s day began like so many others: With a serious look on his face. Catcher Carlos Ruiz saw it hours before he and Halladay teamed as the Phillies’ battery against the Nats.
“I saw him this morning in the lobby of the hotel and his face was like it always is — it’s time to go,” Ruiz said. “The guy was ready in the lobby.”
Ruiz finally saw a smile from his battery mate when the game ended. He’d like to see more. He will.
“Wow — that’s what I said catching him today. Wow,” Ruiz said. “To have that all year. It will be fun for me and my teammates.”
Halladay wasn’t the only new Phillie to have a big debut. New third baseman Placido Polanco had three hits, including a grand slam, and six RBIs. Ryan Howard hit a tremendous home run (as Harry the K used the say), and he did it on a breaking ball from a lefthander. Every starter had at least one hit, and leadoff man Jimmy Rollins had two to go with two walks. With this offense, the Phillies could/should lead the National League in runs again this season. (They scored 820 last year and have finished first or second each of the last five seasons, averaging 837 in the process.)
There will come a day when Halladay benefits from a big offensive explosion like Monday’s. All he needed in his first Phillies start was a couple of runs. He was that stingy on the Nationals. Six of his first nine outs were strikeouts.
“I played with Roy in Toronto and in spring training this year,” rightfielder Jayson Werth said. “I know what type of talent he is and what type of competitor he is. All that shined through today. He’s that good.
“He gave up a run early and didn’t blink an eye. He put up zeroes the rest of the day. That’s something we’ll see all year.”
The entire day wasn’t easy sailing for Halladay. He allowed a booming RBI double to Ryan Zimmerman — on a hanging sinker, maybe his only bad pitch of the day — with one out in the first inning. He fell behind the next hitter, Adam Dunn, with three quick balls before rallying back to strike out the slugger on three pitches — cutter, sinker, curveball. Halladay then walked a Josh Willingham before retiring Adam Kennedy to end his only difficult inning of the game.
"I felt like we had good at-bats the first two or three innings against Halladay,” Washington manager Jim Riggleman said. “He's extremely tough, and he got better as it went on, as great pitchers do." Halladay walked his second batter of the game to open the bottom of the fifth. No problem. He quickly induced a double-play ball.
In 12 seasons in Toronto, Halladay won an American League Cy Young Award and finished in the top five in ERA five times. Missing was a trip to the playoffs. That’s why he pushed for a trade to Philadelphia. He didn’t get it last summer, but he did get it this winter. He is loving life as a Phillie. He even smiles — when all his work is done.
“It’s been fun for me,” he said. “Again, nothing against Toronto, but it kind of gives you a renewed energy coming over here. The guys have been great. The team obviously is a team that wants to win and can win. It’s fun for me. You feel like you’re just out there chipping in, really, the way these guys go about their business. You’re trying to just fill a role.”
Halladay’s assigned role: Ace.
Monday he filled it superbly.