Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Best Halladay Yet

This is what Roy Halladay came to Philadelphia to do. It's why after 12 years of dominating the AL East yet never once tasting the joys and suffering of playoff baseball as the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays he waived his no-trade clause to head to the City of Brotherly love.

He began his journey right there in Nationals Park, in the nation's capital, by picking up a win against the Washington in his very first start as Phillie, very first start as a member of the National league. On that night, he went seven innings, surrendering just one run on six hits while striking out 9. Twenty wins later, Roy Halladay clinched the National League East and the best record in the National League period for the Phillies on the same mound he began his Phillies career, pitching a masterful gem — another complete-game shutout, his MLB-leading 9th complete game and MLB-leading fourth shutout.

It was the kind of start that should put to rest any ridiculous arguments that Roy Halladay should not start game 1 in the NLDS for the Phils. With the chance to finally get to the postseason, Halladay pitched perhaps his best game yet —  a complete-game two-hitter in which he faced just one more than the minimum, struck out six and had the type of movement and command that made him all but impossible to hit. It may not go down in history the way his perfect game did, but I bet this one was even sweeter for Roy. He wanted the postseason so badly, you could feel it with every pitch. He wasn't going to let the Nationals have any hope. He wasn't going to rely on Atlanta losing (which is good, because the Braves won). And he wasn't going to hand this one over to anyone else.

When he blew that final perfect pitch by Danny Espinosa, you could sense the relief and the joy in Roy Halladay's face. For most of these Phillies, winning the division has become routine, an expected outcome of their hard work. Cause for celebration, sure, but a more reserved one than came in 2007. That was evident in Carlos Ruiz's initial reaction going out to congratulate Halladay. He went in for the high-five. Roy didn't want to slap hands, Roy wanted a hug. This was all new to him, a feeling he's never felt, something he really, truly was ecstatic to have happen.

After 12 seasons in Toronto, can you blame him? This was a day he probably never thought would come before landing in Philadelphia.

It was the fourth straight year the Phillies have won the National League East, a truly remarkable feat. While they were the favorites, it was hardly an easy road. Every everyday starter with the exceptions of Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez spent time on the DL. The offense went dormant for long stretches of time. And the Braves held first place for most of the season. But the one constant was that starting pitching, and no one was more consistent, more dominant, more important than Roy Halladay.

Last night, he picked up his MLB-leading 21st win, and with it, most likely the Cy Young. It may be a four-peat for the Phils, but this is a first for Halladay. A first for Mike Sweeney and Brian Schneider. And boy do they deserve it, just like Raul Ibanez and Roy Oswalt deserve a World Series title.

There's still a long way to go for that to happen. Jimmy Rollins needs to get healthy. And the cards have to fall right. But right now, it's looking pretty good. The offense is starting to roll. The pitching has been brilliant. And the Phillies will have the home field advantage for as long as they are playing.

That was all decided last night, when Roy Halladay pitched his team, pitched himself into the postseason. Of course, he had a helping hand from the red-hot Jayson Werth, who drove in four of the eight runs with a long solo home run, a two-run double and an RBI single. Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz each had three hits as well, Raul had two and Chase drove in two runs and scored two more.

But it was Halladay's moment more than anyone's. He was awesome. He's been awesome all year long. And last night was, without a doubt in my mind, the best Halladay yet for Roy. It took him 13 years, but he's finally made it to true October baseball.

Take it away, Scott.

Roy Halladay in "The Clincher" by Mike Meech

All images below stolen from ZWR and The Fightins.

If Charlie Manuel doesn't win National League Manager of the Year, given all this team endured to get to the most wins in the Manuel era and clinch the best record in the league with five games to play, then something is terribly wrong with the world.

Now, a message to Phillies fans (myself included) from the other Roy:

BallHype: hype it up!

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