video thumbnail

PHI@PIT: Halladay fans five over eight shutout frames

PITTSBURGH -- This is the blueprint many expected from the 2012 Phillies.

They would pitch remarkably well, catch the baseball and maybe, just maybe, scratch across enough runs (or this case, run) to win.

Roy Halladay pitched beautifully in Thursday's 1-0 Opening Day victory over the Pirates at PNC Park. He allowed just two hits and struck out five in eight innings, resembling the man many have called the best pitcher in baseball, not the stranger who had a 5.73 ERA in Spring Training.

Jonathan Papelbon pitched like a $50 million closer, firing 10 fastballs in the ninth inning to pick up his first Phillies save. And an offense without its two most important hitters in the lineup manufactured a run in the seventh inning to allow the Phillies to leave the ballpark winners.

"It always feels good to win," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "Whether it's Opening Day or the last day. A win is a win."

The Phillies have been searching for that victory on the final day of the season since they won the 2008 World Series.

They hope this year is the year.

But to make that happen, they will need to make the postseason. And to make the postseason, they will rely on the strength of their rotation and closer. Halladay had not shown the velocity he had in the past this spring -- he hit 91 mph Thursday -- raising a few eyebrows, because the one thing the Phillies cannot afford is slippage from the Big Three (Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels).

Halladay allowed back-to-back singles to Alex Presley and Jose Tabata in the bottom of the first inning to put runners on first and second with no outs, but he got Andrew McCutchen to bounce into a double play and struck out Neil Walker to get out of the jam.

He retired nine consecutive batters until he hit McCutchen with a pitch with one out in the fourth inning. He retired the next 13 batters he faced until he hit Clint Barmes with a pitch with two outs in the eighth.

"It's pretty hard not to give Roy Halladay credit," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He changed speeds to left-handed hitters, stayed out of the middle of the plate, and we weren't able to counter-punch."

"He was a different guy than in Spring Training, I can tell you," Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz said of Halladay. "In the season, as you can see today, that's Roy. ... He was definitely on today. It's like he hit a switch. He turned it on, and he was ready to go."

Halladay threw just 92 pitches through eight innings, but it was a no-brainer to have Papelbon pitch the ninth. Halladay threw no more than 88 pitches in any of his Spring Training starts, so in the first game of a six-month, 162-game season, the Phillies decided not to push him.

He understood.

"I didn't fight him," Halladay said. "I understand at this point. A couple weeks from now, I'm going to fight him."

But while Halladay cruised, the Phillies' offense could not muster anything against Pirates left-hander Erik Bedard, only putting a spotlight on the absences of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, who are sidelined indefinitely with a left Achilles and a chronic left knee injury, respectively. But Ty Wigginton hit a one-out single to center field in the seventh to finally get something going. He advanced to third on John Mayberry Jr.'s double into the right-field corner. Mayberry, who made a couple nice catches in the field, went 2-for-4.

Ruiz, who went 3-for-3, followed Mayberry with a line drive to Pirates right fielder Tabata. As soon as the ball hit Tabata's glove for the second out, Wigginton sprinted for home.

He beat the throw.

"I knew it was going to be close," Wigginton said. "I'm glad I got in there."

It was the first run the Phillies had scored for Halladay since the eighth inning in Game 1 of the 2011 National League Division Series. The Phillies had played 15 consecutive scoreless innings behind Halladay -- nine of them coming in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS -- until Ruiz finally knocked in a run.

"Chooch has always been clutch," Wigginton said.

"I was just trying to bring in one run," Ruiz said. "I wanted to hit the ball back through the middle, and he threw me a fastball in. I put a good swing on it and Wiggy was able to tag up. ... He ran real hard right there."

Had Wigginton not made it, maybe the Phillies would have lamented another Halladay gem wasted. But it didn't turn out that way. They won a close one.

"Hey, guys, we've been playing close games for a long time," Manuel said. "I think we've proven we can play them. Do I like them? I like it when we've got a big lead." Comments