Back to 5 Things: Halladay’s no-hitter
5 Things: Halladay’s no-hitter
October 07, 2010
Roy Halladay surrounded by awed teammates last night.
• Generally, I’m untroubled by feelings of warmth. I do not “glow.” Ever. But this morning, I’m not myself. After having watched Roy Halladay’s imperious no-hitter last night, I feel all tingly.
Let’s not bore each other by pretending to fully understand the arcane art of pitching at the major league level. Suffice it to say that I covered the game, spent two years talking to pitchers about pitching, and emerged feeling as if I understood even less than I had going in. Pitching is the Kaballah of sport.
Let’s just marvel at Halladay, the greatest practitioner of that art at work today. The unkept secret about Halladay’s ability is his focus. He basically hypnotizes himself before every game. I could profitably spend a lot of time just staring at him, sitting in front of his locker, boring over a dog-eared copy of his Bible, The Mental ABCs of Pitching. If you watched the post-game last night, you saw what I used to see. He was still deep in his Cyborg-Halladay mode as he did interviews. The guy’s scary focused.
How scary? Let me tell you a little story.
The Jays were in Boston one pointless weekend a couple of years ago. The visitor’s clubhouse at Fenway is as big as your garage. Doesn’t matter how small your garage is. The players have to walk outside into the causeway to put on their pants.
Before each start, Halladay spends an inordinate amount of time pacing around to nowhere. So here he was, stepping over guys sprawled in front of lockers or crashed out on the cheap leather couch watching Talladega Nights. Again.
Halladay’s sort of hot-footing it around the place, staring off into space, his mouth open. Over in one corner, Vernon Wells is talking about his golf game. He’s showing someone the problem with his swing. His got his hands clasped in front of him, and he’s wiggling his butt like Donald Duck playing golf.
As Robot Halladay approaches, Wells suddenly jerks his clasped hands backward, preparing to fake swing. He smashes the passing Halladay right in the face. Like, square in the jaw. You or I would’ve been knocked out. Halladay – who is an enormous man – was rocked. He reeled, his knees wobbled, but he just managed to keep his balance. And then, without saying anything or acknowledging what had just happened, he moved on. Wells had his hand in front of his mouth doing the old “Oh Lord No!” motion, but Halladay was already gone. He took precisely two steps and moved from one side of the room to the other, and slipped through the door that led to the trainer’s closet.
At first, Wells kind of laughed. Looked at his buddies for support. Then you could see him getting worried. He stood there for a few seconds, unsure of what to do. Should he follow him? Is he hurt? Is that why he went into the trainer’s room?
Halladay then pops back out of the training room – I guess he was just looking for somewhere new to pace. Wells has to physically stop him from just blasting past. Halladay seems to see him for the very first time.
“Are you okay?” Wells whispers, with genuine concern.
Halladay just stares. And stares. And stares. Zombie Halladay! Finally he says, “Sure.”
And then keeps walking.
He won that night.
Around the same time, George W. Bush was asked who he would take if he could have any pitcher and any position player in baseball to build a team around. Remember that Bush is a big fan of the game, and often name-checked as the man to succeed Bud Selig as MLB commissioner.
He tapped Halladay and his current teammate, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley. (The interviewer at Politico.com misspelled that as “Ottley.”)
This was pretty big stuff. I mean, real fans of the game knew who Halladay was, but you didn’t the feeling that they rated him as the game’s best. Now the rooter-in-chief was elevating him to top spot.
Halladay’s teammates were stoked. His manager, John Gibbons, a fabulous guy and a huge Bush fan, was over the moon.
Halladay? You couldn’t just walk up to Halladay and ask. He didn’t operate that way. You had to approach slowly, clear your throat, wait for a wary acknowledgement and then book an appointment to ask. It wasn’t that Halladay was aloof or rude or unfriendly. He had a schedule every day, and he liked to stick to it. Reporters weren’t part of the schedule.
He agreed to talk to me after batting practice. I caught him running off the field. I told him about the Bush quote. He’d obviously heard about it, but he didn’t let on.
“So,” I said, “How does that feel?”
“That’s cool,” Halladay said. And then he stopped and waited for me to ask my next question.
Er. Care to expand on that?
Halladay sighed and thought about it and said, “Any time the leader of a country acknowledges you, it’s cool.”
From anybody else, this is vanity. From Halladay, it’s, “Can I leave now?”
• Halladay’s sabermetric game score (GSc) for last night’s performance was 94.
That means he threw the second and fourth best games by anyone during the entire season. He also threw the 19th and 39th.
We still have some playoffs to go, obviously. But could this be becoming the best season by a pitcher in modern history?
• I think I saw the real Halladay, the non-baseball Halladay, twice.
The first time was in Colorado, when his dad, an airline pilot, came to visit him after the game. He suddenly got all weird and smiley and bashful. He ran out into the hallway and hugged his dad like he hadn’t seen him in years.
To watch such naked emotion, especially from a guy who showed so little of it, was embarrassing. I remember that a few of us standing outside in the hallway dropped our eyes to the floor, so as not to intrude.
The other time was during spring training. A very sick young kid from Montreal had been flown in to have what was in all likelihood his dying wish – to spend a day with Halladay.
Even as a reporter, it was wrenching stuff. Afterward, Halladay looked shattered. There was a moment, as he talked about, where he seemed as if he might cry. That was only time I ever remember thinking of Halladay as vulnerable.
• Nobody knows Halladay – at least, nobody who writes about baseball for a living. You got the profound impression that his teammates and his coaches liked, even loved, him, but didn’t pretend to understand him.
The best piece ever written about him was done by the Star’s Richard Griffin, who had the good sense to talk to the only person who really does know him.
And in the end, he seems every bit the class-act we all suspected – and truly hoped – he is.
There is, of course, no rooting in the press box. So thank God I got to watch this thing at home.
We miss you Doc! A Toronto Blue Jays Fan