SAN FRANCISCO – The stationary bike that saved the Philadelphia Phillies' season sits inside a dingy room next to three trash cans, a metallic folding chair and an wad of used chewing tobacco that would choke a horse.
Amid such aesthetics, Roy Halladay(notes) pumped his legs. He pumped them so they wouldn't quit on him again. The right one had seized up in the second inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, his groin barking in the middle of the biggest start of his life. No way was Halladay going to let a little muscle pull get in the way of this game. Not when the Phillies obtained him a year ago for precisely this sort of start.
So every inning thereafter he descended 17 steps from the field to the utility room at AT&T Park, where he hopped onto a Star Trac UB 4300, its bolts rusted from age and wear. Halladay started riding the bike immediately. He didn't stop until it was his turn to return to the mound. He did this after the third inning, too, and the fourth and fifth, and never again did the shooting pain return.
Neither, for that matter, did the San Francisco Giants, who approached Halladay like the pitching god he usually is, as opposed to the mere mortal he was Thursday night. Groin nagging, velocity down, command off, Halladay persevered through six innings of a 4-2 victory to cut the Phillies' series deficit to 3-2 and send the series back to Philadelphia. And in a season in which he threw a perfect game and the first postseason no-hitter in 54 years, Halladay's performance on one leg Wednesday night may well be his piece de resistance.
"I was gonna try to find a way," Halladay said. "You just hope that way is good enough to get you through. And fortunately it was."
Vintage Halladay it wasn't. There were pitches fat as lard hogs that the Giants pounded into the ground and lifted into the air. The Giants blew opportunities with runners in scoring position in the fifth and sixth innings, and even as Halladay's pitch count veered into dangerous territory, their inability to score rekindled curiosities about whether San Francisco's offense remains potent enough to knock off Roy Oswalt(notes) in Game 6 and Cole Hamels(notes) in a potential Game 7.
[Photos: See more of Phillies ace Roy Halladay]
The question in Game 5, after all, was who would strike first on Halladay, this year's Cy Young favorite, and Tim Lincecum(notes), winner of the last two. San Francisco hit-and-ran into a 1-0 lead in the first, and Lincecum was cruising until the third inning, in which the first sign of Halladay's injury flared.
With runners on first and second and no outs, Halladay squared to bunt a Lincecum fastball. The ball bounced in front of the plate and spun back into what appeared to be foul territory. Giants catcher Buster Posey(notes) picked it up, umpire Jeff Nelson called it fair and Posey threw to third base for a force play. When Pablo Sandoval(notes) caught the throw and stepped back, his foot missed the base, and his second effort came less than a second after Raul Ibanez(notes) slid into the bag safely.
Halladay, meanwhile, stood at home plate, confused. Once he realized the ball had been ruled fair, he half-heartedly jogged toward first base, doing his best to hide the strain he suffered "overextending" on a pitch to Cody Ross(notes) a half-inning earlier. Halladay returned to the dugout, to his bike, and only heard the groan at the stadium when Aubrey Huff(notes) booted a ground ball from Shane Victorino(notes) that allowed two runs to score. Victorino came around on a Placido Polanco(notes) single, the Phillies led 3-1 and Halladay went into survival mode.
His stuff looked flat, and yet he managed to enfeeble a lineup that in Game 4 had scored five runs for the first time in 14 games. In the 84 pitches Halladay threw after the Ross at-bat, he induced only four swinging strikes. He shortened his stride to prevent the injury from worsening. Gone, consequently, was the life on his fastball, which he threw only 12 more times, replaced with a cutter he deployed like Mariano Rivera(notes). If Halladay couldn't get any oomph on his pitches – his cutter sat at 89 mph, about two mph slower than usual – he would rely on the ones with the sharpest movement to confuse the Giants.
"That's him, man," Victorino said. "I don't know if you can put a word on him. Superhero? Just that hard of a worker and that much of a gamer and how much this means to him – that has something to do with it. That's the kind of guy he is. When we got him, everybody knew what kind of horse he is."
The Phillies' Secretariat, certainly, with Oswalt as Man O' War and Hamels as Seattle Slew. It's those thoroughbreds the Phillies intended on riding to their third consecutive World Series appearance until the Giants, armed with a stable themselves, seemed intent on ruining the plan. Back-to-back doubles by Pat Burrell(notes) and Ross in the fourth inning trimmed Halladay's lead to one, and even though he looked shaky in the fifth and sixth, and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel twice warmed up reliever Jose Contreras(notes), he let Halladay pedal himself healthy and throw his way out of jams.
"He wasn't going to let us take him out," Manuel said. "He wanted to stay in."
This was Halladay's game, from his first-inning staredown with Burrell – who didn't like a called third strike, preened in front of the umpire, saw Halladay glancing at him askew and unleashed a succession of F-bombs – to his injury to his bunt to his final pitch, a 3-2 curveball he spiked and Juan Uribe(notes) chased.
If not the toughest 108-pitch outing of Halladay's career, it was the most meaningful. A strained groin last June forced him to the disabled list for two weeks, and even if this wasn't as severe, it tested Halladay just the same, forced him to reinvent himself midgame.
"It's something you deal with," he said. "You try to make adjustments and get your way through, especially at this point."
This point could have been the Phillies' nadir. They looked uninspired in Games 3 and 4, prepared to fold to a Giants team with a pittance of talent comparatively. And the Phillies still have yet to unleash their full potential on San Francisco, needing the misplay from Sandoval to set up the game's most important sequence.
Well, that and everything involving Halladay, who, depending on which teammate was speaking, is a "racehorse," "gamer," "monster," "beast," "warrior" and "champion." All are true except the last. The Phillies aren't champions of anything beyond the NL East, and that means nothing now. They want more, and if they can beat the Giants twice at Citizens Bank Park and win the NL pennant, they'll head to a World Series in which they can fulfill that goal for the second time in three years.
It would be Halladay's first shot, and if a Game 1 is Philadelphia's to play, he'll be ready to pitch. Preferably without the bike.