Chase Utley can still feel the nerves pulsating through his body like an electrical current.
Cole Hamels can still hit the play button in his mind and recite the conversations he had.
A decade later, their memories of Roy Halladay’s perfect game are still fresh.
“It was the fifth or sixth inning,” Utley recalled. “I was like, ‘Wait a second, they don’t have any hits.’ That’s when I realized it could possibly happen.”
It did happen.
Ten years ago this week, on May 29, 2010, Roy Halladay went 27-up, 27-down against the Florida Marlins on a steamy night in South Florida. The temptation is to say that the perfect game was Halladay’s grand introduction as a Phillie because, after all, it came in just his 11th start with the club. But, truth be told, the big right-hander had announced his arrival with authority even before that start. He had pitched two shutouts on his way to four complete games in his first 10 starts with the club and his brief but brilliant legend as a Phillie was already growing.
Start No. 11 stood apart from all the rest — at least until Halladay pitched a playoff no-hitter against Cincinnati later that season — because perfection so seldom happens in a sport where failing seven out of 10 times is an enviable reality. Halladay’s perfect game was just the 20th in Major League history at the time and memories of it have become more poignant, more cherished in the 2½ years since his death in a small plane crash in November 2017.
Utley played second base behind Halladay in that tight 1-0 win in Miami. And after he looked up at the scoreboard and realized what was happening — after his OMG moment — his nerves started to crackle. Because though perfect games ultimately go on a pitcher’s record, they are a team accomplishment, as well. One blemish on defense can unravel the whole thing.
“One-hundred percent,” said Utley, describing the flow of anxiety he felt playing defense late in that game. “We had only been around Roy for a few months, but we’d seen what he was all about firsthand. You want a guy like that to succeed.
“You tried not to put any extra pressure on yourself, but you were definitely more engaged and tuned in. Having no fear is important. I remember thinking I wanted the ball hit to me. I remember anticipating it coming my way and attacking it like I normally would.”
With the exception of catcher Carlos Ruiz, Hamels might have had the best seat in the house for Halladay’s tour de force.
Hamels had pitched two nights earlier in New York. When Halladay took the mound that Saturday night in Miami, Hamels took a seat alongside Jamie Moyer, the next day’s starting pitcher, in a camera well at the home plate end of the visiting dugout.
For two hours and 13 minutes, that camera well became an observation deck as Hamels and Moyer watched and admired Doc Halladay perform surgery. As Halladay started to rack up quick outs, the veteran Moyer, a walking textbook of pitching who had been a mentor to the younger Hamels, got more and more excited about the lesson that was unfolding out on the mound.
“This is why you keep notes,” Moyer told Hamels. “This is why you study hitters. This is why you do it — because you might have the opportunity to do something like this someday. This is the reward you can have.”
Hamels can still hear the conversation.
“That game made me appreciate what Jamie had been telling me for a few years, that you really had to have a game plan, about executing that game plan and making sure you’re focused and never get off it,” Hamels said. “For years he’d been telling me to develop that notebook and keep track of all that information.”
Halladay needed just 115 pitches to finish his clinic against the Marlins. He struck out 11.
It takes a confluence of positive factors for a pitcher to throw a perfect game. Obviously, the maestro needs to be on top of his game. The defense needs to hit all the right notes. And it sure helps if the umpire has a wide strike zone.
Mike DiMuro was the home plate umpire that night in Miami. He had the kind of strike zone that perfect games dream of. Marlins leadoff man Chris Coghlan, rung up on a 3-2 pitch to open the bottom of the first inning, testified to that during his time as a player in Phillies camp in February 2017.
“Big strike zone that night,” Coghlan told us nearly seven years after Halladay’s perfecto. “Go back and look at it. I was leading off, 3-2, ball off the plate, strike three. I still get chapped about it. Go look at it. It could have been totally different.”
As our conversation with Coghlan went on, it became clear that he really wasn’t angry about the strike zone that night. It was more the competitor in him talking.
If anyone would understand that, it would have been Halladay, a competitor’s competitor.
“Oh, everybody loves [a perfect game] except for the guys it’s happening against,” Coghlan said. “I had some buddies at the game and afterward they were like, ‘Bro, that was awesome. I can’t believe I saw that. I’m saving this ticket.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re in the family room, bro, and you’re ticking me off. We just got embarrassed. You can find your own ride home. I’m not giving you a ride.’
“I joke about the zone that night. But I would never diminish anything that man did. To pitch a perfect game, everything has to go perfect and it did for him that night. He was a legend.”
The defense came through for Halladay late in the game that night 10 years ago. Juan Castro made two standout plays at third base, one in which he went to his left, spun and fired to first to end the game. Castro, usually a reserve, was at third that night because Greg Dobbs made a couple of errors in Halladay’s previous start, a loss against Boston. Manager Charlie Manuel opted for a glove at third in Halladay’s next start and the move proved huge.
That final out is Utley’s most vivid memory from the night.
“Juan made a great play, spun around — out recorded,” Utley said. “The excitement we as teammates had for what Roy had accomplished was incredible. He had his game face on all night. After a lot of stare downs, it was good to see that great big smile after the last out.
“We had a small part in it, but he’s the guy who got it done. I remember the way he credited Chooch after the game. Roy was such a great teammate, always deflecting attention from himself. They don’t make ‘em like that very often.”
A couple of months after his perfect game, Halladay recognized the team nature of his accomplishment by presenting all of his teammates and Phillies support staff with Swiss wristwatches — 67 of them in all — inscribed with the words “We did it together. Thanks – Roy Halladay.” The watches cost about $2,800 apiece. Utley cherishes the memento and says he will keep it forever even if he doesn’t wear it often.
“I don’t want to muck it up,” he joked.
Memories of the heart can’t be mucked up.
And that night in Miami a decade ago will always hold a special place in a lot of hearts.
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