Halladay is the perfect guy to be perfect

Former AL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay (second from right) joined the Phillies in the offseason

In their little anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better game, Roy Halladay(notes) delivered a message to Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) on Saturday night.

Top that.

Jimenez can't, of course. Halladay threw a perfect game, the 20th in major league history and third inside a year, handcuffing the Florida Marlins with cutters and sinkers and other pearls of nastiness in a 1-0 Philadelphia Phillies victory at Sun Life Stadium. The last time Halladay came so close to something so great, Jimenez was a teenager tooling around the Dominican Republic and beginning to realize something special existed in his right arm.

Which not only illustrates how long Halladay has gifted us with his greatness – 13 years and running – but how improbable such immortality is, even for the best pitcher of his generation.

As Halladay runs roughshod through the National League and throws a haymaker in the earliest Cy Young battle in recent memory, it's easy to take his career for granted. In his second start, as a 21-year-old pup jammed through the minor leagues by eager Toronto Blue Jays management, Halladay threw 8 2/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers with no hits, no walks and only an error by Felipe Crespo keeping him from potential perfection. Bobby Higginson ruined the no-hitter with a pinch-hit home run, and for the 52 complete games and 17 shutouts he would throw, none had brought Halladay back to the precipice on which he stood on Sept. 27, 1998.

Then came Saturday, his 11th start for the Phillies, a game that went up against the Flyers' first Stanley Cup appearance since the year before Halladay's debut. It had all the buzz of a dead bee. Halladay had proved mortal in his previous start, when old foe Boston touched him up for seven runs in 5 2/3 innings, and the left side of the Phillies' infield Saturday consisted of Juan Castro(notes) and Wilson Valdez(notes). And it's not as if the Marlins were Houston Astros awful or anything.

And yet, by now we should know: None of that matters. Anybody can throw a historic gem in any situation. Dallas Braden(notes), one of the slowest throwers in the major leagues, went 27 for 27 against the best team in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays, on May 9. Jimenez, one of the hardest throwers, no-hit the Atlanta Braves six weeks ago. The efficient Mark Buehrle(notes) was perfect last July against the Rays.

The difference between brilliance and immortality is one pitch, and seven times Halladay ran the count to three balls only to bail himself out. He struck out 11, and certainly the Marlins were culpable, yet the instinct is to heap all the praise on Halladay's effort because he is the archetypal starting pitcher, big and strong and hungry and full of guts and gusto.

Halladay, 33, spent almost all his career pitching for a mediocre team in an impossible division, so Philadelphia is an oasis, the Phillies uniform a cloak of invincibility and, heaven, what a 1-2 punch he and Cliff Lee(notes) would have been. Might as well mention that now while Phillies fans are at their celebratory apex and unlikely to fall into mild depression at the thought.

In the end, they'll take Halladay solo if that's all they can get because he is the key to their postseason. Philadelphia's bats aren't going to need Viagra all season. They'll be fine. And provided Jimmy Rollins(notes) and Placido Polanco(notes) return healthy sometime, the Castro-Valdez juggernaut will be short-lived. Which leaves Philadelphia's fortunes up to its pitching, and its pitching consists of Halladay, Cole Hamels(notes) and more question marks than the Riddler's costume.

What Lee was to Philadelphia last season Halladay is this year, and even more. If the Phillies hold off the Atlanta Braves and the rest of the feisty NL East, they will expect him to carry every game he pitches. Halladay signed a three-year, $60 million extension to win them a World Series, and anything less counts as a disappointment. Even a Cy Young Award.

Less than one-third of the season is complete, and this is already a pertinent topic. At the beginning of the season, Halladay was the easy pick, a near-lock to win 20 games. Jimenez was the bold pick, and his first two months have been as good as any start in major league history: a 9-1 record, 0.88 earned-run average and that seeming tiebreaker, the no-hitter.

Back roared Halladay on Saturday, reminding Jimenez that not only is he still around, he's capable of similar greatness. He's now 7-3 with a 1.99 ERA. He has thrown 86 innings in 11 starts. That's 7.82 innings per start. The last pitchers to average that many over a full season were Bert Blyleven and Dwight Gooden in 1985.

Baseball has commoditized the innings-eater, offering millions to pitchers whose arms simply are built to withstand throwing copious amounts of mediocre pitches. Halladay remains special all these years later because he's an extinct breed: a dominant innings-eater. Only 13 peers throw fewer pitches per plate appearance than Halladay's 3.6, and he still leads the major leagues with 1,220 pitches thrown.

That's just Doc. One Cy Young in his trophy case, another beckoning. More proof that whatever the game – baseball, as the Marlins can contest; or anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better, as Jimenez does – the generation's best pitcher can't be topped.