Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Halladay joins Larsen with postseason feat

Halladay joins Larsen with postseason feat
Tom Singer / | 10/06/10

PHILADELPHIA -- At precisely 7:42 p.m. ET, Roy Halladay wound up for the final stroke of his masterpiece. Brandon Phillips beat the pitched ball into the ground. Carlos Ruiz picked it up and tossed it into immortality.

Halladay thus turned the beginning of the Phillies' National League title defense into defiance, defying history and denying the Reds with his 4-0 no-hitter in Game 1 of the NL Division Series at Citizens Bank Park.

"It's surreal," Halladay said. "It really is. I just wanted to pitch here, pitch in the postseason. To be able to go out and have a game like that is a dream come true."

Halladay's masterpiece joins Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series as the only two no-hitters in postseason history.

"Don Larsen? Oh, sure, I grew up aware of it," Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. "That perfect game in a World Series, yeah. How many in the postseason since?"

Zero. Nada. Zip.

"Really?" Votto's head bopped up and down. "It's no fun being on the hitter side of it."

Since the Yankees' Larsen perfected the Brooklyn Dodgers on Oct. 8, 1956, there had been 954 postseason games in Major League Baseball prior to Halladay delivering the opening pitch of his first one.

None of those other games finished with a "0" in the hit column. Until Wednesday night, in a Game 1 of the NL Division Series that qualified as an iTunes Instant Classic.

Doc just got promoted to Surgeon General.

To Mike Sweeney, it seemed like a put-on. Here he was, a distinguished veteran suited up for his first career postseason game after 1,454 in the regular season, and this is the view he gets from the Phillies' first-base dugout?

"I knew my first time in a postseason game would be something special and extraordinary -- but I couldn't have envisioned anything like this," Sweeney said.

An all-time game deserves an all-time understatement, so Halladay called the no-hitter "pretty neat."

Others weren't quite so reserved, not only about the outcome but about the method, about a pitcher able to take on the NL's top offensive club with such mastery that this was a no-hitter without a single oh-oh.

No defensive heroism was required. The only line drive was off the bat of Reds reliever Travis Wood, right at shallow-positioned right fielder Jayson Werth.

"He was dialed in. He just didn't miss tonight," said Jay Bruce, Cincinnati's lone baserunner on a full-count walk with two outs in the fifth. "He was aggressive in the strike zone. He didn't nibble."

Bruce added of getting no-hit in his team's first playoff game in 15 years: "It comes with a shock factor."

It was shocking how early the witnesses began thinking "no-hitter." You could see the potential in Halladay's stuff, in his demeanor. It was apparent even in the other dugout.

"You knew probably in the third or fourth inning," admitted Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker. "When you saw his command. ... I've been on both sides of no-hitters. The deeper the game goes, you can tell they were feeling it."

The awareness that history was unfolding also came with a shock. These moments happen so suddenly, so unannounced, and unfold so fast spectators invariably wish for a "pause" button.

But real life doesn't have one of those. So you just have to pay real close attention as it is happening.

Whenever a pitcher wanders into no-hit territory, the obvious media response is to prepare a historical perspective in which to frame it. Researchers carefully comb through precedents and painstakingly prepare lists.

This one didn't take long.

The list of pitchers who have thrown a no-hitter in the regular season and in the postseason now includes ... well, there is no list. Halladay is it.

As far as hitless postseason games go, we've got Larsen and Halladay.

And if thinking in terms of no-hitters in the same year, ignoring the line between regular and postseason, we now have five cases, the precedents including Nolan Ryan (1973), Virgil Trucks (1952), Allie Reynolds (1951) and Johnny Vander Meer, who uniquely twirled his 1938 no-hitters in consecutive starts.

That's it. Obviously, Halladay is not the sort of fellow who wilts in the face of high expectations. He follows his high-profile trade to the Phillies with a 21-10 season, likely to earn him a second Cy Young Award, then follows that with a postseason-opening no-hitter.

Thus, neither Halladay nor Game 1 disappointed. The Year of the Pitcher, Continued.

"I appreciate it now," said Votto, in the warmth and quiet of the dry clubhouse. "I have tremendous respect for Roy. To throw a no-hitter in your first postseason start is amazing."

Halladay showed that, too: Amazing grace, putting his team and its goals first.

"It's hard to explain," he said, "but pitching a game like that, being able to win the game comes first. That's kind of your only focus until after it's over with.

"I think these are types of things that once the season is over, I think you're able to kind of soak it all in and enjoy it."

Unless your name is Placido Polanco, and you incur back stiffness which keeps you off the field and out of a box score headed to the Hall of Fame.

"What am I supposed to do? Kill myself?" Polanco asked. "It was just one game. Hopefully I'll get better and get back in there for Friday's game."

But it's not like Roy Oswalt will pitch another no-hitter in that game. At the rate we've gone, no one will again do so in a postseason setting until 2042. According to that timetable, the guy -- or gal -- who will do it probably hasn't been born yet.

Want some perspective on Halladay's masterpiece? Try that one.

Tom Singer is a national reporter for Follow @TomDinger on Twitter.

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