He came from Canada, and no one was sure what to make of him.
Okay, he wasn’t from Canada, but that’s where we knew of him, pitching for a team we’d like to forget about in Toronto. Sure, he had a good pedigree, but it was a strange situation: The Phillies had just been in the World Series for the second straight year, and they had traded one of the guys responsible for getting them back there. Sure, the Phillies lost this time. But Cliff Lee showed up the Yankees on national TV, and as a Philadelphian that’s worth a lot.
The Phillies traded away Cliff Lee so they could restock the farm system, they said, as they acquired a pitcher they promised us would be even better. Roy Halladay had spent 12 years in Toronto, compiling a 148-76 record and a 3.43 ERA. He won a Cy Young Award in 2003. Even the biggest Cliff Lee supporters had to admit he had a better pedigree.
Things didn’t start out so great. No, really. The first pitch Roy Halladay threw as a Phillie was hit for an infield single. He gave up a run in that first inning, too. If you know how sports fans work, you know that when the Phillies trailed the Nationals 1-0 after the first inning of April 5, 2010, some Philadelphians were complaining about Roy Halladay.
That first inning was not an omen. Halladay didn’t give up any more runs that game. He struck out nine. The Phillies won, 11-1. Halladay would win his first four starts for the Phillies. The fourth was a complete-game shutout, a night after the Phillies bullpen turned a 3-0 lead in the ninth into a 4-3 loss in the 10th. “They were all down there eating peanuts,” Charlie Manuel said of his resting bullpen. Halladay didn’t have much to say about his 4-0, 0.82 ERA: “My goal was to be aggressive and not cause any problems for myself. It’s worked out better than I could have thought so far.”
His biggest die-hard fan was starting to get some attention, too. The Phillies were good. Roy Halladay was great. Cliff Lee was gone, but the Phillies got another top-of-the-line pitcher to replace him.
In June, I was at the since-closed T.A. Flannery’s watching Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. As the Flyers were coughing up a winnable game to the Blackhawks—a common theme that series—something special was happening in Florida. Nobody in the bar knew he was throwing a perfect game; we thought we’d maybe get to see a no-hitter. That we got a perfect game in Halladay’s 11th start for the Phillies was more than we could ever believe. Halladay gave around 60 people engraved commemorative watches later: “We did it together. Thanks, Roy Halladay.” Even the bat boy got a watch.
The Phillies began playing baseball in 1883. It took them until 2010 to have the best record in baseball over a season. Roy Halladay had 21 of those wins. Four of them were complete-game shutouts. After a 3-1 complete-game win over the Braves on July 5, Halladay did arm exercises and rose on the stationary bike. “Just getting the blood moving,” he said. Even people who didn’t like baseball had a reason to like Roy Halladay: In that win over the Braves, he threw just 93 pitches—only two batters faced more than five pitches—and the game lasted just 2 hours, 14 minutes. Phillies baseball wasn’t just a good TV show when Roy Halladay was on the mound, it was a relatively short one.
That 2010 season, Halladay’s 21-10 record, 219 strikeouts and 2.44 ERA won him the Cy Young Award. The vote was unanimous. He gave the voters no doubt how they should vote, throwing a complete-game shutout on just 97 pitches in his final start of the year.
I was upstairs at Jose Pistola’s, and we were pretty excited. The Phillies had been to consecutive World Series, and well, we wanted a third. Sure, the Reds had a great offense—they’d scored the most runs in the National League that year—but the Phillies had Roy Halladay. The Blue Jays had never been to the playoffs when Halladay was on the team; he’d shut down the Reds and give the Phillies a 1-0 series lead. Little did we know that Halladay would toss the second no-hitter in postseason history, joining Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Early on, we were just concerned about the Phillies taking the lead. But as Halladay kept pitching and the Reds kept grounding out, we knew this could be something special. The bar erupted. I think we did shots. A guy I went to high school with kissed me on the top of the head.
“That is the best-pitched game I’ve seen since I’ve been going to the playoffs and the World Series,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “He looked like he was in a different world,” Jimmy Rollins said, referencing Halladay pre-game but summing up his entire start as well. “To say he pitched a baseball game that people will talk about for the rest of his life doesn’t truly capture the magnitude of it,” Jayson Stark wrote.
“I think once it ends, it’s a little bit surreal,” Halladay said. Uh-huh.
Then came 2011. The Phillies re-acquired Cliff Lee as a free agent. They now had a big four: Halladay, Lee, Cole Hamels (the 2008 World Series MVP!) and Roy Oswalt, acquired at the end of the previous season. Halladay had another spectacular season: The highest his ERA was at the end of any game was 2.83, four games into the year. He finished with a 2.35 ERA and, really, could have won another Cy Young. And that Phillies regular season was marvelous. They went 102-60. They were the talk of baseball for the whole season.
And then other things happened. In the 2011 playoffs, in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, things didn’t go quite as well—for Halladay, and for the Phillies. Roy Halladay’s last start of the year was a disaster Monday night. Facing the same team against whom he threw his perfect game three seasons earlier, Halladay lasted just three batters Monday night, walking two. One of those batters scored and Halladay was tagged with the loss. He went 4-5 with a 6.82 ERA this season. Halladay’s time has been short in Philadelphia. It’s probably over. Why dwell?
The oldheads in Philadelphia talk of Jim Bunning’s Father’s Day game with the reverence you usually hear reserved for the time Pope John Paul II visited Philadelphia. That 1964 season ended with a late-season collapse that cost the Phils a World Series berth; that Bunning threw a perfect game on Father’s Day saved the season in everyone’s memories. Even if the ending was bad, Phillies fans still had that. When Juan Castro spun and threw to first for the final out, we had our perfect game. Roy Halladay gave us that. He gave us that a lot of nights. He made us forget that the Phillies are a team of nine strangers who happen to regularly play a stupid game in South Philly.
You hardly ever saw Roy Halladay smile. It’s funny, because he sure made Phillies fans want to.