Halladay as close to perfect as you can get
PHILADELPHIA -- When the Yankees' Don Larsen etched his historic perfect game in the record books in the 1956 World Series, the newspaper lead was "A perfect game by an imperfect man."
I thought about those oft-repeated words Wednesday as the Phillies' Roy Halladay joined Larsen with only the second no-hitter in postseason history, a magnificent 4-0 victory over Cincinnati in the first game of the National League Division Series.
Doc Halladay also pitched a perfect game on May 29, a brilliant 1-0 gem over the Florida Marlins.
What should my lead be?
Since Halladay is going to be in the record books right next to Larsen, maybe this works: "The perfect man pitched an imperfect game." After all, Halladay walked one batter, Jay Bruce, with two out in the fifth. Other than that, he retired every Red he faced.
Everything about the way Halladay approaches baseball seems to be perfect. Larsen had his problems off the field and was basically a journeyman pitcher -- before the perfect game.
Halladay's demeanor, his focus, his approach, not to mention his pitches, are about as perfect as the ace of any staff can be. When it's his turn to pitch, he reminds me of a method actor preparing for a part. He puts his game face on and doesn't falter.
Don't even say "Hello" to him on his day of work.
Before Wednesday, I'd covered 11 no-hitters, from Jim Bunning to Sandy Koufax to Nolan Ryan. Ironically, one of the 11 was the last time the Reds were no-hit -- by the Phillies' Rick Wise on June 23, 1971.
Wednesday's at delirious Citizens Bank Park was by far the best and most important I've seen as a reporter. I was in college when Larsen threw his perfect game against the Dodgers and watched on a snowy TV set.
The significance of what Halladay achieved cannot be overstated. The last time a pitcher threw two no-hitters in one season was Ryan in 1973.
Start with the importance of winning the first game in the treacherous best-of-five series against an underdog team searching for confidence in its first postseason since 1995. Halladay kept that from happening.
He threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 28 batters he faced.
"Any time you do that with the stuff he has, then he can go to work on you after that," sighed Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker. "Tonight, it was like a situation where you're almost helpless because the guy was dealing. It's the second time he's done that against two pretty good hitting teams [Florida and Cincinnati]."
Of his 104 pitches, none were in the middle of the plate. Just two balls had the potential to ruin the no-hitter. Pitcher Travis Wood hit a sinking liner to right fielder Jayson Werth to end the third inning and Joey Votto, the NL's leading MVP candidate, drilled a ground ball deep into the hole that shortstop Jimmy Rollins gloved to end the fourth.
The sellout crowd of 46,411, which, like the players, had to endure cold rain showers in the third and fourth innings, became louder and louder, waving their white rally towels, chanting and riding on every Halladay pitch. They were on their feet almost all of the last two innings.
Halladay's perfect game was in Florida. He said he was well aware of the excitement in the stands as the game neared its end.
"When it gets that loud, it's hard to ignore," he said. "I thought especially the last three innings, it seemed to get louder every inning. It's one of the most electric atmospheres I've ever been in. It was pretty neat."
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said by the fifth or sixth inning, the dugout got very quiet because something very important was unfolding.
"After the sixth inning, things just kind of went quiet, like they did when he was pitching in Florida," said Manuel. "People just stayed in their seats and sat there and watched the game. He came in and went down to the end of the dugout, sat in his chair and didn't say a word. And at the end of the inning, he'd get up and go back out on the field."
Tongue in cheek, Manuel added: "It was great managing; that's what I call great managing tonight!"
Halladay, a 21-game winner during his first season with the Phillies, said by the middle innings, the no-hitter was within reach.
"You're definitely closer," he said. "I think throughout the whole game, though, it's not something you're trying to do. I think as soon as you try and do it, it kind of takes you out of your plan a little bit. I was definitely aware of it, knew what was going on in the fifth or sixth inning."
It was mentioned to Halladay that his name now goes next to Larsen, a baseball legend for pitching the only no-hitter in the World Series.
For now, Halladay is more concerned about helping the Phillies advance in the postseason and return to the Fall Classic.
"I think these are the types of things that once the season is over, you're able to soak it all in and enjoy it. Right now, it's easy to keep your focus on the team knowing we need a couple more wins to move on.
"Being able to win the game comes first," he added. "That's your only focus until it's over with. I think once it ends, it's a little bit surreal to know some of that stuff."
To anyone who watched Halladay on Wednesday, what he accomplished was more than surreal and they don't have to wait to enjoy it.
"This is the best pitched game I've seen since I've been going to the playoffs and World Series," said Baker.
On second thought, maybe my lead should be: "A perfect day for a perfect man."
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.