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What's next for Phils, Halladay?
Roy Halladay is so earnest. He was that way in Toronto. He is that way in Philadelphia. I suspect he was that way in the third grade.
He reached the big leagues in 1998, struggled for a spell, remade himself in the minors and returned to stay in 2001. He has since become one of his generation’s most respected and decorated pitchers: the perfect game, the first postseason no-hitter since Don Larsen, the two Cy Young Awards. Halladay accomplished one of the rarest feats in sports stardom, exiting a city (and country) with such grace that he remains as popular in Canada today as when he pitched for the Blue Jays.
Now, he is on the disabled list with a strained right latissimus dorsi muscle. The Phillies announced Wednesday that a second opinion confirmed the original diagnosis. He won’t throw for another three weeks. It seems probable that he won’t return until after the All-Star break.
Near the end of a Wednesday news conference, Halladay was asked about his contract with the Phillies. Because his stay on the disabled list will be lengthy — six to eight weeks, according to estimates — he’s unlikely to log the necessary innings to trigger his $20 million option for 2014. Technically speaking, he’s obligated to the Phillies for only the next year and a half. Of his future, Halladay said, “My goal is to finish my career with the Phillies and win a World Series here.”
I don’t believe that will happen.
Maybe I should clarify that: The first part of Halladay’s goal — retiring as a Phillie — may come to pass. He’s won 192 games. He’s thrown more than 2,600 innings. Because of his stature in the game, he will have considerable influence on when and where he heaves his final sinker.
But the second half of Halladay’s objective is growing more unattainable by the day. Most of us would agree — maybe even a few Mets fans — that Doc deserves to taste the champagne of a World Series title. He waived his no-trade clause and came to Philadelphia largely because his chance to do so seemed greatest there. Yet the window may close even before Halladay gets back on the mound.
Consider the following:
• As Halladay spoke, the Phillies were 28-29 after losing four straight games. > Hours later, they lost again to the Los Angeles Dodgers. They haven’t been below .500 this deep into the season since 2007, according to STATS LLC.
• The Phillies hold two distinctions in the National League East to which no team aspires: worst record and oldest roster.
• Second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard, cornerstones of the Phillies’ active streak of five straight division titles, have not played in the majors this season because of injuries.
• Left-hander Cole Hamels and center fielder Shane Victorino, two more mainstays who won World Series rings in 2008, will be eligible for free agency at season’s end. Neither appears close to signing an extension.
• One member of the 2008 core who is signed to a long-term contract — shortstop Jimmy Rollins — is having the worst season of his career: a meager .641 OPS and three home runs in 55 games. His three-year, $33 million deal — which includes a 2015 vesting option — looks like a mistake.
• Even with 31 combined starts by Halladay, Hamels and Cliff Lee, the Phillies’ pitching has been mediocre overall. The team entered Wednesday with a 3.79 ERA — three-quarters of a run higher than last season and seventh in the National League.
Does that match the profile of a World Series winner?
Halladay knows what a championship-caliber team looks like, because he played on one in each of his first two seasons with the Phillies. In 2010, he won the Cy Young and no-hit the Reds in his postseason debut. But the Giants — one of the unlikeliest champions in recent memory — defeated Halladay in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, and the Phillies fell in six games. Last year, Halladay’s close friend Chris Carpenter beat him, 1-0, in the division series winner-take-all Game 5.
Halladay is 3-2 in five postseason starts, with a 2.37 ERA that is even better than his sterling regular-season mark. He absolutely has lived up to the expectations placed on him when the Phillies parted with three top prospects to acquire him. But he’s never pitched in a World Series game, and I’m beginning to doubt he ever will. The Phillies are at the bottom of a division led by the Washington Nationals — who are younger, hungrier, and (most importantly) have the lowest team ERA in baseball.
Maybe the Phillies are going to shock us. Maybe Utley and Howard will mash in the second half. Maybe Halladay will return to his old, dominant self — instead of the tired pitcher who so far this season had surrendered his highest WHIP in five years. There is some precedent for a comeback: The Phillies, with many of the same players, were under .500 in July before winning the division in 2007. But let’s be honest. That is unlikely to happen again.
The Phillies used to be exceptional in just about every way — talent and grit, cohesion and competitiveness, power arms and power bats. That is the team Halladay looked at longingly from the other side of the border, the team from which he accepted a discounted deal so more stars could join. But now that team is gone, even if many of the names remain.
The Best Rotation in Baseball is no more. The Best Lineup in Baseball left town long before that. Roy Halladay is probably destined for the list of the greatest pitchers who never won a ring. And that’s a shame.
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