Roy Halladay was two months into his tenure with the Phillies when he pitched a perfect game against the Florida Marlins on a warm Miami night in May 2010. The image of the triumphant pitcher raising his arms as Juan Castro threw across the diamond to Ryan Howard for the final out is still fresh in the mind. It was difficult not to reflect on Halladay’s perfect game Tuesday night. Three-and-a-half seasons after that exhilarating moment, Halladay found himself facing the Marlins once again, only this time at Citizens Bank Park.
Times change. Back in May 2010, Halladay was just beginning his time with the Phillies. He is older now. Injuries have taken a toll on his fastball. The euphoria of the perfect game has been replaced with the uneasiness of an uncertain future. And so, there was a very real possibility that Halladay made his final start in home whites for the Phillies on Tuesday night. At least he came away with the win in the Phils’ 6-4 victory.
Robotic to the end, Halladay said he felt no pangs of nostalgia as he walked off the mound after holding the young Marlins to four hits and a run over six innings. “Honestly, I did not think about that,” he said. “It’s not out of lack of respect for the fans or anything like that. I just didn’t think about it. I don’t let myself look that far ahead.” The fans didn’t think about it that much, either. The announced crowd was 28,872, the second smallest of the season.
Halladay, of course, will be a free agent this offseason. He has struggled since coming back from shoulder surgery in late August. The darting fastball that used to carve up hitters has lost its bite and is less menacing. The void has been filled by a heavy reliance on off-speed stuff, trickery out of the Jamie Moyer handbook. Halladay would like return to the Phillies next season. It’s unclear whether management will offer him the opportunity. He will be 37 in May. There are questions about how much he has left in the tank.
“Unfortunately, that’s out of my control,” Halladay said. “So I’m going to continue to play as hard as I can for the organization and my teammates and hopefully I have a chance to pitch again. “But I can’t worry about things that are out of my control.”
Chase Utley, another aging player who has had his share of injuries, received a contract extension last month. He hopes Halladay gets one. “It did not dawn on me,” Utley said of the possibility that this was Halladay’s last start in home whites in Philadelphia. “I hope that’s not the case.
“He’s improving. Coming off surgery with a new arm slot, it’s something that he has to get used to. It seems like his command is getting better. I’m a true believer that the more reps and the more comfortable he gets with that new arm slot, the stronger he’ll get.” Halladay did not face a world-beating lineup Tuesday night. The Marlins are young -- four of their nine starters were rookies -- and their offense is terrible. They rank last in the NL in runs per game (3.21), batting average (.231) and OPS (.627). Giancarlo Stanton -- a.k.a. Ruben Amaro Jr.’s obsession -- is the only real threat in the Marlins’ lineup. Halladay got him to pop out on a changeup with two men on base to end an uprising in the fifth.
This has become Halladay’s style of pitching -- finesse, lots of off-speed stuff. His best fastball was just 88 mph Tuesday night. Manager Ryne Sandberg was asked if he believed Halladay would continue with this style. “For the rest of September I do,” he said. “His stuff has pretty much stayed the same.”
And beyond September? “I don’t know. That’s the unknown,” Sandberg said. “You would think that getting these innings under his belt, these games, being healthy, are good signs. It’s hard to tell, but with a normal offseason throwing program, I’d be optimistic that he could gain some velocity.”
Halladay, who walked five batters in each of his previous two starts, said he tried to be more aggressive in this game. He was able to do that thanks in part to run support. Battery mate Carlos Ruiz drove in two runs in the third inning and Utley smacked a three-run homer in the fifth. The defense was also strong behind Halladay.
Getting back on a mound less than four months after surgery is a courageous move, but Halladay is not being evaluated on courage. If he were, the Phillies would offer him a five-year extension today. The team had a gaggle of front office types -- from Amaro to Pat Gillick, Dallas Green, Marti Wolever and Charley Kerfeld -- at Tuesday night’s game. Using cold, clinical evaluation, Amaro and his team of advisers must decide whether Halladay can still consistently get major-league hitters out.
They will have two more looks at the pitcher next week, but those starts will come on the road. The home portion of Halladay’s season is over and it’s fair to wonder if he has thrown his last pitch in Phillies’ home whites.
- Jim Salisbury, CSN Philly