Roy Halladay proves he is human
With expectations high after no-hitter, Phillies' ace looks ordinary in loss against Giants
PHILADELPHIA -- The silence in the Philadelphia Phillies' clubhouse was interrupted by the occasional clinking of media credentials and the shuffling of equipment by clubhouse attendants. Beyond that, barely a whisper could be heard.
Several players had already left the clubhouse by the time reporters were allowed into the room after Philadelphia's 4-3 loss to the Giants in Game 1 of the NLCS, and Roy Halladay would have left too if not for his obligation to speak to the media as the night's starting pitcher. On Friday, Halladay joked that speaking with reporters, something he loathes, was not so bad this time of year because it "beats the heck out of fishing."
But as Halladay stood with his back pressed against a table in the middle of the Phillies' clubhouse, surrounded by a crowd of reporters with TV camera lights shining in his face, there was probably a part of him that wished he could be listening to birds chirping and the plop of a casting line dipping into a lake.
The entire year teammates marveled at how Halladay's demeanor rarely changes, win or lose. Saturday's game tested that resolve, as this was Halladay's most important loss as a member of the Phillies. He did not pitch badly, though the expected duel between Halladay and Tim Lincecum mostly did not come to pass. Halladay allowed four runs in seven innings, not an awful line, but certainly not what was expected after the no-hitter in his postseason debut.
"His command wasn't as sharp as it has been," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "Unfortunately, he keeps raising the bar. People think you're supposed to do that every time. It's tough to pitch a no-hitter every night."
As expected, Halladay was curt and his comments were quick. After less than five minutes, Halladay finished his interview and headed to the shower.
"At this point you make enough mistakes they end up costing you," Halladay said. "You find out what you're made of. You never expect it to be easy. You battle back and grind it out and make adjustments. If you can't handle failure at this point, you're in the wrong business."
Halladay was mostly done in by two home runs from Cody Ross. The first came on a sinker. The second on a cutter. Though both were solo home runs, a bit of Halladay's invincibility was diminished. Halladay did not think the first pitch Ross hit was that bad of a pitch. He conceded the second pitch was too much over the plate.
"I think Cody guessed right," Dubee said of the first home run. "It might not have been one of his better sinkers, but he just guessed right."
When someone has pitched as well has Halladay there is a tendency to try to find excuses when he doesn't pitch well. Knowing Halladay is such a creature of habit, it would be easy to point out that 10 days had passed since he had last pitched.
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After Philadelphia's Division Series win against the Cincinnati Reds, teammate Jose Contreras marveled at how Halladay celebrated. For the first time all season, Halladay had allowed himself to get lost in the moment. He smiled and laughed and sprayed champagne in the clubhouse. For the first time, whether on the mound or off it, Halladay appeared human.
So often, Halladay had appeared to be almost robot-like. He arrived each day in spring training at exactly 6:30 a.m. and was always the last person to leave. During the season, he would arrive on the day he pitched and would hardly say a word to anyone. Mostly, Halladay would have his face buried inside a scouting report binder. And the routine never changed.
Could it have been that the one moment of pure joy Halladay had allowed himself after the first-round playoff win was enough of a distraction to affect his next start?
"You can speculate on a lot of things," Dubee said. "I think he's just human."
And yet it's easy to also point out that Halladay was not that far removed from one of his better nights.
He never changes. It doesn't matter if he wins or losses. He's always the same.” -- Phillies pitcher Jose Contreras
"I think a couple pitches here or there and you'd be talking about the gem he pitched," Dubee said.
There were several bloop hits by the Giants that on another night might not have landed fair. There was a drive to left field by Pat Burrell in the sixth that Raul Ibanez almost caught, but that instead went for a run-scoring double. There was Juan Uribe's single in that same inning that trickled up the middle to score the San Francisco's fourth run, that if hit a few inches left or right might have resulted in a ground-ball out.
Sometimes those plays are the differences between playing in the World Series or going fishing.
There is still, of course, the point that Halladay could pitch again in this series and will have the opportunity to redeem himself. Who could possibly think that Halladay would have two consecutive bad outings? Teammates speak about Halladay with a reverence reserved for Hall of Famers, and nobody expects him to fail again.
"He's the best pitcher," Contreras said, "that I've ever seen in my life."
After almost every player had departed, Halladay quietly dressed at his locker. Two Phillies media relations employees stood near his locker to counter any last-minute interview requests. Mostly, Halladay stolidly dressed in peace.
Contreras looked toward Halladay's locker, shook his head and marveled, "He's the same way. He never changes. It doesn't matter if he wins or losses. He's always the same."
Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.