Originally published October 7, 2010
Can you pitch the game of your life twice in the same season?
Oh, yes, you can.
Just ask Roy Halladay. He did it Wednesday night.
Just ask Jimmy Rollins. He witnessed it.
“It was just great,” Rollins said. “Simple and classy. That was awesome.”
Rollins has seen some spectacular Phillies postseason moments the last two years. Heck, he’s authored some of them. Wednesday night he lived through another one as Halladay, in a performance seemingly plucked from the pages of a fairy tale, took the mound for his first postseason game ever and pitched a no-hitter to lead the Phillies to a 4-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Think about all of this for a second. Halladay came to Philadelphia because he believed it was the place where he could experience postseason play after a career full of empty Octobers in Toronto. In his first playoff start, on the night he had long dreamed of, he did something that had only been done once before in more than a century of postseason play. Before Halladay’s 104-pitch gem against the Reds, Don Larsen had been the only other pitcher to toss a no-hitter in postseason play when he delivered a perfect game for the New York Yankees in the 1956 World Series.
Halladay was not quite perfect. He walked one batter, Jay Bruce, on a 3-2 pitch in the fifth inning. But Halladay knows what perfection feels like. His perfect game on May 29 at Florida was the season’s signature moment.
Before all this happened, of course.
“It’s a little bit surreal to know some of that stuff,” said Halladay, referring to the historical aspect of his accomplishment. “This was one of those special things that you’ll always remember.”
Every Phillies fan will remember it, the 46,411 who packed Citizens Bank Park, and the countless others who watched it at home on television.
They will remember every one of Halladay’s eight strikeouts, the two excellent defensive plays that Rollins made at shortstop, and the nice catch that Jayson Werth made on the Reds’ only hard-hit ball in rightfield.
They will remember how Halladay owned Cincinnati hitters, how he attacked them with the intensity of a pit bull, how he threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of 28 batters, a ratio that allowed him to control the Reds’at-bats and get their hitters to chase his darting pitches, even when they were purposely thrown wide of the strike zone.
They will even remember how Halladay had an RBI single in the second inning, before anyone started thinking no-hitter.
There were more memorable vignettes, of course.
The final out will always remain indelible. Reds leadoff man Brandon Phillips hit a tapper out in front of home plate. As the ball skittered on the grass, it struck Phillips’ bat. Catcher Carlos Ruiz looked like a frantic Easter egg hunter as he reached around the bat, grasped the ball and, from his knees, threw around the base runner to first baseman Ryan Howard to end the game.
“It looked like Carlos was playing Twister,” Howard said afterward. “He made a great throw from his knees.”
When the out was registered, Ruiz hopped into Halladay’s arms, a freeze-frame moment reminiscent of Yogi Berra leaping into Larsen’s arms in 1956.
Within seconds, Halladay and Ruiz were engulfed by jubilant teammates. Howard said he wasn’t sure if it was cool to celebrate a Game 1 win in a playoff series, but, what the heck, this was special.
“Pretty solid pickup, I’d say,” Howard deadpanned, referring to Halladay’s acquisition in December.
“That’s what I call good managing,” Phils skipper Charlie Manuel joked.
Phillies fans were thrilled when the team acquired Halladay. They weren’t all that happy when 2009 postseason hero Cliff Lee was traded away in an accompanying deal.
As Phillies players mobbed Halladay at the last out Wednesday night, Phillies officials, according to front-office man Dallas Green, “went crazy” up in the team’s executive box.
“We forgot about Cliff Lee,” said Green, who, as a young Yankees farmhand, was at Yankee Stadium as a spectator the day Larsen threw his perfecto.
The Phillies scored four runs in the first two innings, running Cincinnati starter Edinson Volquez from the game. After Halladay contributed to the Phils’ three-run rally in the second, he took the mound in the top of third and iced the Reds on nine pitches, eight of which were strikes. Halladay threw his entire arsenal at the NL’s best hitting team. He featured a power sinker, a devastating cutter, a dazzling changeup and a curveball that Reds hitters, often behind in the count, couldn’t lay off.
So how did Halladay’s stuff compare to the perfect game in Miami?
“Better,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said. “Way better. Better movement. Better command.”
Halladay credited Ruiz for calling a heads-up game. He only shook off Ruiz once.
“I know I always go back to it, but Ruiz has done a great job all year recognizing what’s working, what’s effective, and calling it,” Halladay said. “We were aggressive and made good pitches.”
The Reds couldn’t argue that.
“In a situation like that, you’re almost helpless because he was dealing,” Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. “Good pitching will beat good hitting and that was great pitching tonight.”
Joey Votto, the Reds’ MVP candidate, concurred.
“I hate to use hyperbole, but he’s an ace among aces,” Votto said.
Lost in all the excitement created by Halladay’s masterpiece was the even more important fact that the Phils are up one game to none in a short, best-of-five playoff series. They are two wins away from returning to the NL Championship Series for the third time in as many years.
“The best part of this is the playoffs take priority and it’s pretty neat for me to go out and win a game like that knowing there’s more to come for us and more to accomplish,” Halladay said. “So that makes it a lot of fun.”
Things might not be fun for the Reds. They face Roy Oswalt in Game 2 on Friday. He’s only 23-3 in his career against Cincinnati.