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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — This was supposed to be all new to Roy Halladay, yet you wouldn’t know it by the stoic expression he wore. The same emotionless veneer that he had each time he took the mound for the Phillies during the regular season.
You wouldn’t know it was all new to Halladay by the way he pored over his copious notes on the Cincinnati Reds in the spiral notebook that he keeps for each team, sharing his pre-game thoughts as he always does with Phils’ catcher Carlos Ruiz. No deviation whatsoever from the routine that made Halladay a 21-game winner.
Postseason baseball has a way with players. It’s an ambiance that’s supposed to possess raised intensity, invade players with a greater anxiety that can grip them, consume them by the glut of media and eyeballs attached to every pitch and swing. Postseason baseball can unglue even the brightest of stars.
Apparently not Roy Halladay. Pitching in his first-career playoff game, Halladay threw the second no-hitter in Major League Baseball postseason history, mowing down the Reds, the best offensive team in the National League, to the tune of 4-0 Wednesday at soldout Citizens Bank Park and propel the Phillies to a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five National League Division Series.
Call Halladay’s postseason debut as the greatest in baseball history.
The right-hander now joins Don Larsen as the only other pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the postseason, dating back to when Larsen tossed his gem for the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, on October 8, 1956. Larsen’s no-hitter was a perfect game, and Dodgers’ lead-off hitter Pee Wee Reese was the only Brooklyn batter to draw a three-ball count.
Halladay was almost as perfect. The only baserunner he allowed was a two-out, fifth-inning walk to Jay Bruce. He had only three three-ball counts throughout the game. Otherwise, Halladay was simply Doc Dominant. He needed 104 pitches to accomplish the rare feat, striking out eight. He had Reds’ hitters lunging and off-balance all night, staying ahead with 10 0-2 counts. Halladay threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 28 batters he faced.
Cincinnati shortstop Orlando Cabrera didn’t exactly see it that way. He thought Halladay was getting a little help from home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck. “Another umpire, [Halladay] wouldn’t have thrown a game like that,” Cabrera told Cincinnati reporters. “He was getting every pitch. We had no chance. We had to swing.”
When Cabrera’s opinion was told to Halladay, the history-making pitcher blew it off, saying “I thought [Hirschbeck’s strike zone] was good. I thought really it was a pretty fair zone. There are going to be cases people aren’t going to be happy with what’s called.”
In the ninth, Brandon Phillips stood in the way of Halladay and immortality. Phillips’ two-strike dribbler in front of the plate looked like trouble, but was easily handled by Ruiz, who from his knees tossed Phillips out, completing the first no-hitter in the postseason since Larsen’s perfect game 54 years ago.
Halladay was so zeroed in, he was impervious to everything. He admitted hearing the rising crowd noise as each inning passed, but that glanced off him like a pebble. In the later innings, the Reds tried to break Halladay’s rhythm, when Joey Votto kept stepping in and out of the box in the seventh. That didn’t work. Halladay got him to ground out. Miguel Cairo tried the same tact in the ninth, and Halladay got him to foul out down the left-field line for the second out in the inning.
That sent up Phillips, who will now go down in Phillies’ lore with other last batters like Willie Wilson and Eric Hinske. When Ryan Howard clutched the Ruiz throw that recorded the final out, it ignited a tense Phillies’ dugout and imploded a crowd that had grown cautiously tranquil to that point, intently absorbing the special moment they were witnessing.
“It’s surreal,” said Halladay, trying to explain his piece of history. “I just wanted to go out and be aggressive and give us a chance to win. It makes it fun to be able to go after guys. We were aggressive, throwing a lot of pitches for strikes. We wanted to do it on our pitches.”
Around the sixth inning, Halladay said, he became aware of what was happening. But throughout the whole game, it wasn’t something he planned. He wanted to keep his focus and stay aggressive. Winning the game was the priority. Throwing the no-hitter was the frosting on Halladay’s first-postseason victory.
“It was a lot of fun, it was just one of those special things you’ll remember,” Halladay said. “The best part about it is that the playoffs take a priority, and it’s pretty neat for me to go out and win a game like that. You try to disconnect yourself from the emotions a little bit. You go out and execute your plan, and once I got out there, I was able to do it. I wasn’t thinking about my first playoff start and all of that other stuff.”
Ruiz could tell something was brewing from their pre-game bullpen session. Everything Halladay threw was precise. Everything worked. When asked about his command of pitches, Halladay replied “I thought we used everything pretty well today. The change-up worked pretty well for me, and the curveball was good. Ruiz is very good at recognizing what works well for me. Through the middle innings, I thought we did a good job of mixing pitches, but history didn’t enter my mind. It’s hard to explain pitching a game like that, winning the game comes first and that’s your only focus until the game ends. The best part about it is when you’re out there, you’re trying to help your team win the game. That helps keep your focus.”
The Phillies scored three of their runs in the second inning—with the bottom of the lineup doing the damage with two outs. The inning was prolonged by a fielding decision from, ironically, Cabrera. The Reds’ shortstop fielded a two-out ground ball by Wilson Valdez, and instead of going to first to get Valdez, Cabrera opted to go to second but was too late to get the sliding Ruiz, who coaxed a two-out walk, allowing Valdez to safely reach first. That lapse in judgment proved costly. Because Halladay followed with an RBI single and after Jimmy Rollins walked, Shane Victorino upped the Phils’ lead to 4-0 with a two-run single to center. That’s all the Phillies really needed with Halladay working his magic.
Halladay summed it up in a monotone voice at the post-game press conference. “The bottom line is winning the game, I wasn’t thinking about getting a no-hitter,” Halladay said. “The way I see it is that we’re one game up. But this is something I’ll look back on and really take in after the season.”
In the end, it wasn’t playoff tension that gripped Halladay. It was his batterymate Ruiz, congratulating him on something that may never happen in the postseason for another 54 years … or until Halladay takes the mound again.
Reported by: Joseph Santoliquito
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