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Halladay better than perfect, Phils say
Better than perfect? Is that possible?
With Roy Halladay, the answer actually might be yes.
Not because of the stage — Game 1 of the Division Series against the Reds, the top-scoring team in the National League.
Not because of the accomplishment — the first no-hitter in postseason play since Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956, and only the second in major-league history.
No, Hamels was talking about Halladay’s sheer dominance, the fact that the Reds barely touched him in the Phillies’ 4-0 victory.
“If you look at the swings their guys took today, only one guy hit the ball solid,” Hamels said, referring to pitcher Travis Wood’s lineout to right fielder Jayson Werth for the final out of the third inning. “In (Halladay’s) perfect game, we made some big plays behind him.”
Wasn’t necessary Wednesday night.
Halladay came within one walk of becoming the first pitcher to throw two perfect games in the same year, one measly walk to Jay Bruce on a 3-2 count with two outs in the fifth, a sinker that stayed inside rather than darting back over the plate.
Afterward, a rival executive put it best.
“Composure, command, movement, power — it looked like he was playing a video game,” the exec said.
Phillies reserve Mike Sweeney said catcher Carlos Ruiz expressed a similar sentiment to several teammates, waving his hand back and forth to demonstrate Halladay’s ridiculous movement.
Cutters, sinkers, curveballs, changeups — everything was working, nothing was straight. Even on ball four to Bruce, Halladay just missed his spot. Several Phillies praised Bruce for laying off the pitch.
“I’m not the best hitter,” Hamels said. “But I’d have been swinging.”
Everyone get it now? Everyone understand?
Halladay spent his first 12 seasons with the Blue Jays, pitching largely in anonymity, never reaching the postseason.
His trade to the Phillies and Cy Young performance elevated his profile. But now that he is pitching — and dominating — in the playoffs, he will be an even bigger name.
The Phillies acquired Halladay and traded Lee in a three-team blockbuster last offseason. Not long ago players shunned Philadelphia. Now the place is baseball heaven, and Wednesday night Halladay created a new form of nirvana.
“It was emotional,” Phillies left fielder Raul Ibanez said. “At the end, there were emotions you didn’t even know you had inside you.”
Halladay, described by one scout as “mentally tougher than anyone in the game,” is unemotional, practically robotic. But as he headed to the interview room with his two young sons, Braden and Ryan, he was smiling broadly.
Ruiz said he sensed that a no-hitter might happen as soon as Halladay started warming up in the bullpen. Halladay said the possibility started to hit him in the middle innings.
“Obviously, you’re aware of it the whole time,” he said. “But by the fifth or sixth, it’s a little bit more . . . not achievable, but you’re a little bit closer.”
The plate umpire was John Hirschbeck, known for his big strike zone. Several Reds questioned called strikes, and shortstop Orlando Cabrera said that Halladay benefited from Hirschbeck’s liberal judgment.
Left fielder Jonny Gomes, however, offered a different view, saying that Halladay was so good, he forced Hirschbeck to call strikes.
“Tough night,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said as he left the park. “The sumbitch was dealing.”
Halladay has now thrown 259 2/3 innings this season, his most since a career-high 266 in 2003. He was 26 then. He is 33 now. But he only seems to be getting stronger.
In his final regular-season start, he shut out the Nationals on two hits. His next start will be on regular rest in Game 4 of this series, if necessary, or in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Braves or Giants. The Reds are better than both of those clubs offensively.
Halladay actually allowed a career-high 13 hits to the Reds on June 30, but he pitched nine shutout innings against them 10 days later, giving up just five hits.
Wednesday night, he was even better, reaching for history, barely missing perfection — and avoiding having to buy his teammates a fresh set of gifts.
On Aug. 24, Halladay commemorated his perfect game against the Marlins by presenting 60 Swiss-made Baume and Mercier watches to teammates and other members of the organization.
The watches came in brown boxes that bore the inscription, “We did it together. Thanks, Roy Halladay.” The back of each watch was engraved with the date of the game, the linescore and the individual recipient’s name.
Another perfect game Wednesday night, and Halladay would have been under pressure to at least match his previous reward
“I told him all the players were upset because they were hoping for another perfect game, which would have meant another watch!” Halladay’s agent, Greg Landry, joked.
Better get to work, Roy. You’re slipping.