SAN FRANCISCO -- They'd been hanging out together, playing baseball together, for eight long months, dreaming those World Series dreams. But on a drizzly Thursday night in October, it was no longer a time for dreaming for the two-time defending National League champs.
For the Phillies, down to their last nine innings of postseason breath, it was a time only for surviving. Somehow. Anyhow.
It was all about trying to survive to play one more game. And then another. And another.
To survive to play again, though, all they had to do was win in a ballpark where they almost never win. That's all. And beat a two-time Cy Young winner on an unbeatable autumn roll. That's all.
And, for their most challenging trick of the evening, they had to do it on a night when the pitcher they'd built their season around was secretly gimping his way through his biggest game of the year on a sore right groin muscle that made his push-off leg feel about as stable as a plate of linguini.
This was no way for these men to be trying to star in their own very special episode of "Survivor." This was no way to avoid trying to get voted off October Island. But somehow or other, as they headed for the plane back to Philadelphia late Thursday night, they were still a team with a pulse, a breath and at least one more postseason baseball game to play.
"I'm proud we're still playing," said Roy Halladay, after improvising his way through six amazingly effective innings in his team's 4-2 Game 5 win over the Giants. "I think that's first and foremost. I think all of us, at this point, have kind of put our own personal stuff aside, and go out and play as a team and try to accomplish stuff as a team. So I think that's a good feeling. It's a good feeling, as a team, to be able to fly home, knowing we're playing again."
But as they strolled down that jetway Thursday -- with Game 6 awaiting, approximately 45 hours and 3,000 miles away -- Halladay's teammates knew the deal. They knew they'd just witnessed one more stirring chapter in the Legend of Doc Halladay. And they knew they wouldn't still be breathing in that invigorating October oxygen without him.
Even without the leg strength to throw more than a couple of his world-famous dive-bombing two-seam fastballs, Halladay paintballed his way through six innings of six-hit, two-run baseball. He threw more changeups than he'd thrown in any start since June. His velocity plummeted more steadily than your 401(k). But he made it work -- because there was no other choice.
"You know what? That's him, man," Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino said. "I don't know what kind of word you can put on him. I don't know if he's a superhero or what. But he's just that hard of a worker and that much of a gamer, and this says how much this means to him, I think. That's just the kind of guy he is. When we got him, everybody knew what kind of horse he was, a guy you want to hand the ball to every night. And he was again tonight."
This was a story that really began about 50 weeks ago -- just five days after the Yankees had finished off the 2009 Phillies in the World Series. It was Nov. 9, on the first day of the annual general managers meetings in Chicago, that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. approached Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos and asked the question that was about to change the course of both their franchises:
"What are you going to do with Roy Halladay?"
It was that day that the Phillies launched their pursuit of the man who headed for the mound inside AT&T Park on Thursday, knowing he was all that stood between this team and the first tee time of the offseason.
As long as he could just outpitch Tim Lincecum.
Five days earlier, these two had met in a Game 1 Battle of the Cy Youngs that us media hype-masters had built up like the Thrilla in Manila. But in reality, it was the sequel -- The Doc versus The Freak, Part 2 -- that was the big one here.
It was just the third time in history that ANY postseason series had pitted two former Cy Youngs against each other in two different games. One was Pedro Martinez-Roger Clemens in the unforgettable 2003 ALCS. The other was Greg Maddux-Orel Hershiser in the 1995 World Series.
And now this.
It was Lincecum who won Game 1, getting the Giants off and rolling in a series they've never trailed in for even 30 seconds. But this was big. The only question was how big.
"I think they're both big," Halladay would say later. "Obviously, we would have loved to have gotten out to a 1-0 start and not put ourselves in a hole [in Game 1]. But to be able to extend the series is big, also. I think at this point you're just looking at trying to win four games. You're not looking at how or how you get there."
But the "how" on this night wasn't quite what any of them had in mind.
First off, the Phillies had to win in a ballpark where they'd won just 14 times in 40 games since the Giants opened the gates. Second, to play on, the Phillies were going to have to become only the seventh team in history, and the fourth road team, to beat a multitime Cy Young Award winner in order to stave off elimination.
So this wasn't the kind of formula any of them would have drawn up if they'd been allowed to rewrite this script. But since the only way to rewrite it was to find a way to win, they did what they had to do.
"We just kind of play in the moment," said Jayson Werth, who put his stamp on this game with a lightning-bolt throw from right field and a rare opposite-field AT&T Park homer. "I read somewhere the other day where [Ryan Howard] said his motto is 'no panic.' And I think that's pretty true for our whole team. I mean, we've got a bunch of guys that are professionals and know what they're doing. We needed to win a ballgame tonight. We went out and did it."
But little did they know how they'd have to pull this off. With Halladay walking the leadoff hitter in the first inning -- for the first time all year. With the Giants then scraping together a first-inning run, in a series in which they were already 3-0 when scoring first.
And then, with Halladay reaching back to put a little extra juice on a second-inning cutter he used to strike out Cody (Mr. October) Ross -- and wincing from the "sharp" pain that shot down his right side.
He would make it through the inning. But then he paced toward the dugout and immediately told manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee that he'd just hurt himself. And Richter scales everywhere jumped.
But when the manager asked if the ace needed to come out, he might as well have asked if Halladay wanted the Phillies to trade him back to Toronto -- because he knew the answer:
I don't know what kind of word you can put on him. I don't know if he's a superhero or what.
”-- Shane Victorino on Roy Halladay
Asked later what would have to happen for him to bail on a postseason baseball game -- after waiting his whole life to pitch in one -- Halladay mustered an actual laugh.
"They'd have to kick me out," he said. "I mean, I was going to find a way. You just hope that way is good enough to get you through."
Up and down the dugout, his teammates saw this conversation, knew something was up. They just weren't 100 percent sure what.
"We just sat there watching his velocity go from 92 to 91 to 87 to 86," reliever Chad Durbin said. "So you know something's wrong."
In order to survive, though, Halladay and his catcher, Carlos Ruiz, knew they were going to have to do some things differently. But not knowing whether the pain was going to worsen as the night wore on, they also knew they'd almost have to make it up as they went along.
"When something hurts in your body," Ruiz said, "you have to figure out what the best will be so you can throw it. His sinker wasn't working like it usually does. So you have to find something. He's tough. He wants to win so bad."
But four hitters into the third inning, Ruiz tried signaling for two of those patented Halladay two-seamers in a row -- and realized immediately they would have to store that pitch in the attic for the rest of the night.
"He left a sinker in the middle of the plate that usually ends up on the corner," Ruiz said. "We needed to figure out something different. There was no choice. We knew this game was it."
Yeah, this game was it, all right. So no matter how well Halladay pitched, his offense was going to have to figure out a way to score off Lincecum, a guy who had lost only once in eight starts since Sept. 1, and a guy the Phillies had hit a whopping .170 against this year.
But after Lincecum ripped off two straight perfect innings, they found a way. A bloop single by Raul Ibanez and Ruiz's fourth hit-by-pitch of the postseason got them a couple of baserunners. Then Halladay tried to lay down a bunt to move up the runners, clanked it about a half-inch in front of home plate and assumed it was foul.
A funny thing happened while he was hanging out waiting for that foul call, though: It never came. Plate ump Jeff Nelson called the ball fair. Catcher Buster Posey scooped it up and fired to third. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval stomped his foot down on what he thought was the third-base bag -- and missed.
So everybody was safe -- uh, except Halladay. He was still ensconced at the plate, taking in the scenery, until he realized, way too late, that it was time to run.
Asked later if he was proud of that bunt, Halladay's face got red.
"Not so proud," he said. "That was kind of embarrassing."
But on this night, it wound up working. Victorino bounced a ball to first that caromed off the heel of Aubrey Huff's glove for a two-run E-3. Then Placido Polanco roped a fastball to left-center to knock in another run. And the Phillies had themselves the first lead they'd taken off Lincecum in this entire calendar year.
Normally, it would have been up to Halladay to do the rest. But he didn't have it in him on this night. He gave back one run of that lead in the fourth, pitched out of a two-out, two-on mess in the fifth and then found himself in the middle of one final crisis in the sixth.
Again there were two on. Again there were two out. The hitter was Wednesday's walk-off hero, Juan Uribe. Halladay's pitch count had inflated to 102, with the bullpen pumping.
The count reached 2-2. Ruiz trotted to the mound. With a hack-happy hitter at the plate, there was no reason to challenge him. They decided on back-to-back curveballs. Halladay bounced the first one. But Uribe started to wave at the second, almost dislocated his elbow trying to check his swing, and went around.
Inning over. Roy Halladay portion of this "Survivor" episode over. But this game? Definitely not over.
Asked if he knew that was his final pitch, to his final hitter, Halladay said: "I don't know. I never look that far ahead." But when asked if he knew how critical that pitch was to the outcome, he answered simply: "Of course."
That left nine outs for that not-always-beloved Phillies bullpen to get. But on this night, the relievers were up to it. Jose Contreras, pitching for the third straight game, got two of them. J.C. Romero, pitching for the first time in 13 days, got the third -- on a rocket by Huff that Chase Utley snow-coned. And that got the game to Manuel's two most-trusted relievers -- Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge.
Madson came stomping out of the 'pen to pitch the bottom of the eighth, as "Don't Stop Believing" pumped through an electrified ballpark. Great Giants moments of 2010 played on the video board. Orange pom-poms were shaking halfway to San Jose. You could feel adrenaline shooting through every vein in the park. It's just that, in this case, it wasn't shooting through the veins of a guy in the right uniform.
"Great song," Madson gushed later. "That song pumped me up. When they started playing it, I got chills. It kept me loose. It took my mind off everything. I guess they probably won't do that again now that you're going to write it."
Yeah, well, it's too late now. Madson promptly became the first reliever to strike out all three hitters he faced, this late in a tied or one-run postseason game, since the Mets' Armando Benitez did that to -- guess who? -- the Giants in Game 3 of the 2000 NLDS.
Then, after Werth had lengthened the lead to two with just the 22nd opposite-field homer by a right-handed hitter in the history of this park, the baseball wound up in Lidge's hand. The closer then ripped off his first 1-2-3 save since Sept. 20. And, no longer down three games to one, the Phillies had accomplished this night's mission:
For one more day -- and one more happy plane ride through another precious October night.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.