PHILADELPHIA -- If the Phillies are to return to championship-contending form in 2013, they will need the Roy Halladay that more closely resembles who they've seen his last two trips to the mound. That same dominant, Cy Young Award-caliber Doc they grew accustomed to seeing the two prior seasons.
Halladay, who has faced his challenges in 2012, performed on Friday like the pitcher who went a combined 40-16 in 2010 and '11. The two-time Cy Young Award winner allowed just one run on two hits over eight innings in a 3-1 win against the defending World Series-champion Cardinals.
Halladay mixed all his pitches and got ahead in counts on his way to improving his record to 6-6 and lowering his ERA to 3.80. The 6-foot-6 right-hander struck out eight -- five swinging -- did not issue a walk and retired the last 12 and 16 of the final 17 batters he faced. The only real blemish to his line was a Carlos Beltran solo homer in the second inning.
"This is the best he's pitched in a while, of course," manager Charlie Manuel said.
The Phillies did not let Halladay's great outing go to waste, as Chase Utley smacked a go-ahead, two-run home run in the eighth inning. Closer Jonathan Papelbon earned his 25th save in 28 chances, finishing the game by catching Beltran trying to steal second base.
Though Utley was the one who provided the crucial winning run, the second baseman had high praise for his teammate.
"We wouldn't have been in that situation if Roy didn't pitch the way he did," Utley said. "Since he's been back, it's the best game he's pitched yet, and I still think he can improve, so it's a good sign.
"The Cardinals have a very good offensive team. For him to pitch like that against those guys, it tells you something."
This has been far from a storybook season for Halladay, who won his first three starts before losing five of his next six decisions. After a May 27 loss at St. Louis in which he left after two innings with an injury, Halladay went on the disabled list with a strained right latissimus dorsi, which caused him to miss the next seven weeks.
Since Halladay's return on July 17, he said he's felt better each time out. It has certainly showed. Over his last two starts, he is 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA with 13 strikeouts to just one walk. Dating to the last few innings of his July 29 start at Atlanta, he's retired 55 of the last 62 batters he's faced in the last 18 1/3 innings, allowing just one run on five hits.
"Really, for me, it really has been all mechanics," Halladay said. "It makes things a lot easier when mechanically you're tied together. Your arm gets in the same spot every time and it makes it easier to repeat."
Mechanics in check, Halladay feels like his cutter and changeup, two pitches he struggled with earlier in the season, have been more effective. He feels more "in sync."
His velocity might be a couple tics down this year, but that's not something Halladay worries about. He hit 92 mph with his fastball a couple times in the first few innings on Friday.
"To me, it's going out and making pitches," he said. "I've had years where I threw 90, 91 and had success. It's location, movement, making pitches. For me, one or two miles an hour isn't going to help me. Location and movement is going to help me. So I just need to continue to focus doing that and go out and pitch."
The results from the last two starts are the Halladay the Phillies have come to expect. In a season full of team struggles, Halladay's recent performances are a great sign for the team moving forward.
"It was like the Halladay we've seen too many times," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
"He's one of the best pitchers in the game when he's healthy," Beltran said, "and he just proved it today."
Jake Kaplan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.