Thursday, April 22, 2010

I'm Your Huckleberry

Prior to last night, Roy Halladay had pitched three games as a Philadelphia Phillie, and surprising to absolutely no one, he was nothing short of brilliant. Unfortunately, between work, playing softball and baseball, and the Flyers engaged in a playoff game the same night as one of his starts, I did not have a chance to watch the newly minted ace from his first pitch to his last in any of those first three outings — though I did catch parts of them. That is, until last night, and boy did I ever get rewarded.

Like the rest of the baseball world, I had heard all the hyperbole bestowed upon Halladay over the years — the movement on his pitches, the pinpoint control, the relentless work ethic, the singular focus, his aspirations to finish each season with less walks than games started (he's done it twice in his career, and thus far has four games started with just three walks all season) — but as Toronto fans can attest to, you don't really appreciate everything he does until you get to see him on a regular basis. You hear about the guy pounding the strike zone. You hear about his poise on the mound. You hear about how quickly he works. And then you watch it, and it's even more impressive than you could have ever imagined.

Doc finished off his first shutout as a Phillie last night, going the distance in a five-hitter with seven strikeouts and just one walk, outdueling a very game Tim Hudson, who gave up just two runs on six hits in six innings of work (though did throw a lot of pitches) to give the Phils a 2-0 win and put them back atop the division, a game ahead of the Braves and a game and half ahead of Florida and Washington. He breezed through the first six innings, retiring the first 11 batters he faced, highlighted by striking out 20-year-old phenom Jason Heyward looking in the 2nd on a ridiculous comeback 2-seamer, prompting the rookie to just lift his head and say, "Wow!"

The Braves had just two hits off him after six innings. Halladay was putting on a clinic, with a little help from his friends.

As incredibly awesome as all that was — and man, was it freakin awesome — I was perhaps even more impressed with his 7th inning. The Phils, stymied themselves by some excellent pitching by the Braves, held just a 2-0 lead. Jayson Werth was the only Phil who had more than one hit, doubling twice — one resulting in him scoring a run when Raul followed with a double himself and the other driving in Ryan Howard. The margin for error was still razor thin for Halladay, and up came the heart of Atlanta's lineup, now seeing Doc for the third time around.

Chipper Jones, being the great hitter that he is, took notice that Roy was throwing first-pitch strike after first-pitch strike and went up hacking. He singled to center on the first pitch he saw. Brian McCann, another excellent hitter, followed suit, duplicating Chipper's at-bat by singling to center on the first pitch. Suddenly, Doc was in a tight spot in a close game, two on with no one out and the go-ahead run at the dish in the person of Troy Glaus, with Heyward looming on deck. Unfazed, stoic and never even showing an ounce of concern, Doc glared in at Glaus, at Curbball and took the challenge head on.

He came out fastball, fastball, fastball, getting ahead of Glaus 1-2. Then he threw a disappearing changeup, getting Glaus to flail at the pitch for the strikeout, one down, exactly what he was looking for. Up next came Heyward, and god damn did that son of bitch work an incredible at-bat. The kid has been the talk of baseball since spring training, and this at-bat is exactly why. You expect Roy Halladay to completely and utterly abuse rookies. Hell, he's made a living completely and utterly abusing Hall-of-Fame-bound players. He had already struck out Heyward looking and gotten him to ground out to short. But damn if the kid isn't a quick learner. He took a 4-seamer for a strike, then simply refused to go fishing, taking two pitches just off the outside corner for balls and one down and in for another ball, getting ahead 3-1. Yes, he did look foolish on a 3-1 hack, clearly expecting a fastball only to get a nasty curve, but then he calmly stepped back in the box, with the count full, and laid off a changeup to take the walk, loading the bases with just one out.

This is the spot we as Phillies fans have become accustomed to seeing our perennial "ace" lose his cool, blow up for that one big inning (you know, except for that entirely too short three-month stint with the greatest man who ever lived). Not so with Halladay. Roy simply collected himself, made his pitches and got Yunel Excobar to ground into the inning-ending double play — thanks to a tremendous play by Chase Utley. Yes, Escobar hit it hard, but Roy knows he has an excellent defensive team behind him. Hell, even the guy who's supposed to be the weak link was making Gold Glove-caliber plays.

Tight spot, close game, heart of the order up to do damage, and not once did I expect Roy to give in. Sure, I was a little concerned, but not that much. And rightfully so. The guy just doesn't get rattled. Back-to-back singles to lead things off, a one-out walk to load the bases, doesn't matter. He was still in control, still ready to dominate. And he did. I sure can get used to watching that.

He came out for the 8th, got Melky to ground out, gave up a pinch-hit double to Eric Hinske, but then got Nate McLouth and Martin Pardo both to ground out. Still a two-run game heading into the ninth, I was slightly worried Charlie might lift Roy with his spot coming up third, especially after Curbball got a one-out double. But Charlie wisely sent Roy out there to hit for himself. This was his game to finish off. His shutout to get. He sure as hell wasn't going to let Ryan Madson or anyone else come in and blow this one. Yeah, it left a runner stranded in scoring position, but so what? Two runs was all this team needed with Doc out on the mound.

He quickly disposed of the heart of the order once again in 9th, getting Chipper, McCann and Glaus to all ground out to end the game. 2-0 Phils, first shutout as a Phillie. Halladay has now started four games for Philadelphia — he's 4-0 with a 0.82 ERA and an even more incredible 0.88 WHIP, striking out 28 while walking just three. The guy is fucking incredible. Every five days truly is reason to celebrate, to watch and marvel at this man as he completely dominates on the mound.

BallHype: hype it up!

No comments:

Post a Comment