Roy toys with Mets from the beginning
Halladay throws strike after strike after strike; counterpart Niese gets little support
Roy Halladay: 17 pitches, 17 strikes, 0 balls.
"I looked up and it was 17," Collins said. "And when I looked up at the scoreboard and saw it was 17, I turned to one of those guys on the bench and asked, 'Anybody ever seen that before?' So that was the first time I've seen it."
It was the first time in nearly 20 years anyone had seen a line like that.
Halladay began his sterling outing at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday afternoon by firing 18 consecutive strikes -- the most by a pitcher to start a game since Sid Fernandez on Aug. 16, 1991, when Fernandez also threw 18. Halladay went the distance and allowed seven hits -- all singles -- as the Phillies took care of the Mets 2-1, extending their National League East lead over New York to 7½ games.
"Our guys knew he was gonna throw strikes," said Collins of Halladay (4-1, 2.14 ERA), who struck out eight and threw an unfathomable 80 of his 107 pitches for strikes. "We knew he was gonna be around the strike zone, but we kept hitting the top half of the ball. We weren't getting it centered. Guys were taking their at-bats, then going into the video room. Once guy came back after watching the tape and said, 'He hasn't thrown anything straight yet.'"
Halladay, who has beaten the Mets in his last seven starts (7-0, 2.29 ERA), was able to throw all of his five pitches for strikes.
Any count. Any location. It didn't matter. Whether he was throwing his fastball, cutter, sinker, curveball or split-change, Halladay was absolutely brilliant.
"Either you go up there and you try to get something to hit early, or you're down 0-2," said third baseman David Wright, who managed an infield single off Halladay in the fourth inning, the same frame the Mets plated their lone run.
"We went out there and tried to be aggressive. We had an opportunity one inning, but when you don't get multiple runs it's tough to beat him. It was good to scratch one, but it would've been nice to put up two. Because with him, you know you're chances are gonna be limited. He just went out there, kept his pitch count down and really dominated."
According to ESPN Stats and Information:
• Halladay's average horizontal break on his fastball was 6.7 inches, his most since July 2010. The Mets wound up going 3-for-22 on at-bats that ended with a Halladay heater.
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• The Mets swung and missed at 41.5 percent of Halladay's pitches out of the strike zone, his highest rate this season. Halladay has gradually increased his chase percentage in every successive start this season (starting at 25.6 percent on Opening Day).
• He threw just four straight fastballs to right-handed hitters, instead opting to challenge them with sinkers (10) and cutters (five). And it worked: Right-handers were just 1-for-7 off him with five strikeouts.
"It's not just his ability to throw strikes, it's that he can throw four or five different pitches for strikes, and I think as a hitter that's hard to comprehend," Wright said. "And it's not just about throwing strikes, it's about him having some of the best stuff in baseball and throwing strikes, locating them in and out, up and down."
As tremendous as Halladay was, it was easy to forget that 23-year-old southpaw Jonathon Niese matched him for six innings, taking a 1-0 lead into the bottom half of the seventh before things unraveled. Using a newly developed two-seam fastball that featured heavy sinking action, Niese retired 11 straight batters at one point -- seven of them coming via the groundball.
But all of that went for naught when Niese hung a 3-2 curveball up in the zone that left fielder John Mayberry Jr. mashed for a solo home run to tie the score at 1. Shortly after Niese departed, third baseman Placido Polanco delivered a sacrifice fly to give the Phillies the lead to stay.
"Jonathon Niese was absolutely tremendous," Collins said of his starter, who gave up two earned runs over 6 1/3 innings but was saddled with the loss, which dropped him to 1-4 overall with a 4.71 ERA on the season. "He used all of his pitches today. I was very happy with the way he threw. He used his change, his cutter was working. It's just a shame we didn't give him more support."
Niese, who has posted a 2.79 ERA in his last three starts, needed support because, as Wright said, "Halladay was Halladay."
And there was no stopping him.
Halladay set down the Mets in order in the first inning, throwing just six pitches. Then he had a five-pitch second.
Halladay wound up going through the entire Mets order in 17 pitches.
Seventeen. All of them for strikes.
He got ahead of shortstop Jose Reyes 0-1 for his 18th straight strike with two outs in the third, but wound up missing high with 90 mph four-seamer.
And get this: The sellout crowd of 45,598 booed.
"Tough crowd," Reyes said.
Of course, those boos turned to cheers shortly thereafter, when Reyes grounded out to second.
Halladay was well on his way to greatness yet again.
On the other hand, the Mets (11-16) were on their way to their third consecutive loss.
"Everything comes out of his hand the same way," Wright said. "One [pitch] cuts, one sinks, he's got a split-change that the bottom falls out of it. A very good curveball. You name it, he can throw it.
"He can get you out with it and he can throw it for strikes."
It won't get any easier for the Mets on Sunday night, when they take on elite left-hander Cliff Lee, the other half of Philadelphia's lethal 1-2 pitching punch.
"What do you want me to say?" Collins asked. "I mean, when you come in here, you're gonna see one of those guys. That's what it is. We're gonna be ready for tomorrow night."
They better be. Otherwise, the Mets are going to get swept.
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.