PITTSBURGH (AP) — If only Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies had gotten this 1-0 win last October.
Halladay was nearly flawless for eight innings Thursday and the Phillies showed off their pitching from the start, opening a new season by edging the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Missing injured stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the Phillies scored the lone run they needed on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Ruiz in the seventh. New closer Jonathan Papelbon pitched a perfect ninth for his first National League save.
“It was a good game for us,” Halladay said. “It went the way we wanted and Papelbon came in and got his feet wet and got that out of the way. All in all I think it was a good way to do it.”
For Halladay and his teammates, it was a familiar score with a different winner. Their season ended last year when Halladay lost a 1-0 decision to Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals in the deciding Game 5 in the first round of the NL playoffs.
The Phillies start this season as the favorites to win their sixth straight NL East title.
Making his 10th opening day start, Halladay didn’t argue when manager Charlie Manuel opted to bring in Papelbon.
“I understand at this point,” Halladay said. “A couple weeks from now I’m going to fight him.”
The two-time Cy Young winner sparkled, giving up just two first-inning singles while striking out five without issuing a walk.
Halladay was pulled three outs before getting a chance at his 21st shutout.
“We just didn’t get many pitches to hit,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said.
The Pirates are hardly the Cardinals — who went on to win the World Series last year — yet starter Erik Bedard nearly matched Halladay pitch for pitch, giving up only one run in seven innings. He struck out four and walked one, though it wasn’t enough to keep Pittsburgh from losing its first season opener since 2006.
“I’ve done it before so it wasn’t a big deal but it was nice to get the chance to do it with a new team and it was nice to pitch well in front of the fans,” Bedard said. “Anytime you lose, though, you wind up disappointed. I wish I wouldn’t have been able to hold them off the board but they got one across and that made the difference.”
Ty Wigginton, filling in while Howard continues to rehab his left Achilles, singled with one out in the seventh and John Mayberry followed with a double to right.
Ruiz, who had three hits, sent a fading liner to right and Jose Tabata made the catch, but Wigginton slid under catcher Rod Barajas’ tag to give Philadelphia the lead.
It was just a run, but it was plenty for Halladay.
Hurdle has preached the word “finish” as Pittsburgh’s mantra for 2012 after the Pirates collapsed following a brief flirtation with first place last July. Pittsburgh could never get started, however, against Halladay.
Baseball’s best pitcher over the last decade gave up singles to Alex Presley and Jose Tabata to start the game, eerily similar to the two hits he allowed against St. Louis in that Game 5 last fall. The Cardinals, however, turned those hits into the game’s only run.
Pittsburgh — which brought in veterans Clint Barmes and Barajas to help kick-start one of baseball’s weakest offenses last season — didn’t get that close.
Andrew McCutchen, who signed a $51 million deal last month as the linchpin of the Pirates’ rebuilding project, grounded into a double play and Neil Walker flied out to end the first-inning threat.
That was the only chance the Pirates got against Halladay. Pittsburgh’s only two baserunners over the final eight innings came on hit batters.
“Nobody solves Roy Halladay,” Presley said. “I don’t need to tell anyone how good he is. He pitched a great game. He shut us down after the first inning.”
And Papelbon took care of the ninth. Manuel never hesitated to bring in the former Boston reliever despite Halladay’s dominance.
Halladay never threw more than 88 pitches during spring training and had 92 in eight innings. That was enough for Manuel.
“He hadn’t been stretched out,” Manuel said. “I figure if he went into the ninth and they took some pitches he was going to go to 105-112 somewhere in there. By three or four starts starts he’ll be wound up to go 115-120.”
Bedard tried to his best to keep pace. Mixing speeds and locating his curveball expertly, the lefthander who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career worked quickly. His only bobble came in the seventh, but it was enough to prevent the Pirates from staying unbeaten all-time in opening day games against the Phillies.
NOTES: Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett, on the 15-day DL, joined the Pirates for opening day festivities but is expected to start for Class A Bradenton on Friday. He is eligible to return on April 10 … Halladay’s 10 opening day starts are tied for the fourth-most in baseball history … The two teams are off Friday and meet again Saturday. Jeff Karstens will start for the Pirates while Cliff Lee gets the nod for Philadelphia.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)