05/30/10 12:20 AM EST
Phils' Halladay throws MLB's 20th perfecto
Doc strikes out 11 Marlins batters during first career no-hitter
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
About seven hours later, his quiet Phillies teammates morphed into an exuberant bunch in the midst of an on-field celebration, and a rare smile crept onto the stoic Halladay's face.
On this Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium, Halladay -- arguably the best pitcher in the game already -- was perfect.
Twenty-seven Marlins hitters came to bat, and 27 were promptly retired, as Halladay edged out ace Josh Johnson and delivered a 1-0 victory for his team while becoming the 20th pitcher in Major League history -- and second this season -- to fire a perfect game.
As if he needed any more affirmation.
"It's something you never think about," Halladay said. "It's hard to explain. There's days where things just kind of click and things happen, and it's something you obviously never go out and try and do. But it's a great feeling."
The 33-year-old Halladay joins Jim Bunning (1964) as the only Phillies pitchers to throw a perfect game. He is the 10th pitcher in Phillies history to throw a no-hitter -- the last one to do it was Kevin Millwood on April 27, 2003, against the Giants -- and the third in the Majors this season, joining Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez and the Athletics' Dallas Braden, who fired a perfect game on Mother's Day.
It was the eighth perfect game in National League history, and the first since Randy Johnson in 2004.
"It's absolutely amazing," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's good. That's amazing. It's one of the biggest feats a pitcher can do."
Halladay had compiled 154 wins and an American League Cy Young Award through what was already a phenomenal 13-year career, but the first-year Phillies hurler was never better than he was on this night.
While notching a season-high 11 strikeouts -- the most by a Phillies starter this season -- Halladay blew the Marlins away with fastballs, cutters and sinkers, flustered them with changeups and curveballs, perfectly framed the outer edges of the strike zone -- allowing him to not yield a walk despite getting into seven three-ball counts and six full counts -- and never really let the Marlins come anywhere close to a hit.
Halladay wasn't immediately available after the game, though.
He was working out -- just like he does after every start -- even though this one was slightly different.
"Really, just trying to go one pitch at a time," Halladay said about how he maintained focus. "I know it's a cliche, but I feel like when I'm most effective, that's what I'm doing is pitch for pitch and just trying to execute pitches. I can't say enough about the job that [catcher Carlos] Ruiz did tonight, really. I felt like he was calling a great game up until the fourth or fifth, and at that point, I just felt like I'd let him take over and go with him.
"He did a great job. Like I said, it was kind of a no-brainer for me. I'd just go out, see the glove and hit it."
Halladay was just a green 21-year-old making his second Major League start when he sniffed no-hit glory and fell just short. It was Sept. 27, 1998, against the Tigers, when the then-Blue Jays pitcher needed one out to etch his name in baseball history, but gave up a home run to Philadelphia product Bobby Higginson with two outs in the top of the ninth.
One hundred and fifty-three Major League wins later, Halladay not only finished the deal, he one-upped that performance with perfection.
"Anything can happen in this game, as we all know," veteran starter Jamie Moyer said. "So I think you always respect that, and you go out and you compete, and you see where it takes you. I can't be happier for Roy and what he was able to accomplish."
While making only his second career start at Sun Life Stadium, Halladay's ERA dropped from 2.22 to 1.99, and he had to fight every pitch to run his record to 7-3.
Johnson was nearly as good.
The Marlins' ace gave up just one unearned run on seven hits while walking just one. The only run the Phillies were able to scrape across came in the third inning, when Marlins center fielder Cameron Maybin misjudged Chase Utley's liner and saw it bounce off his glove and roll to the wall, allowing Wilson Valdez to score from first base.
If it weren't for that, Halladay may have been carrying a perfect game into extra innings.
"He was perfect," Johnson said. "I need to go out there and be perfect as well. To give my team a chance to win, that's what I needed to do."
Halladay of course kept the ball, and he also got the pitching rubber taken out for him -- as Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria told him when he stopped him in the hallway before speaking with the media. When Halladay got back to the clubhouse from his postgame press conference, vice president Joe Biden -- a Scranton, Penn., native -- and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter were on the phone, waiting to congratulate him.
Halladay said his sinker was working especially well on this night, and he got help from home-plate umpire Mike DiMuro's rather wide strike zone.
"I don't want to talk about the strike zone, because that's a discredit to what he did," said Marlins left fielder Chris Coghlan. "He was moving the ball all over, to both sides of the plate. Even when he got to 2-2, 3-2, he was able to locate offspeed pitches. He threw a great game."
Every no-hitter has a few nice defensive plays. And though this one didn't really provide highlight-reel catches, the Phillies made some nice plays behind Halladay.
There was a sixth-inning chopper to shortstop from the speedy Maybin, which Valdez, Jimmy Rollins' replacement, quickly fielded and fired to first to get the out on a bang-bang play.
And there was a stung short-hop to third base to lead off the eighth inning off the bat of Jorge Cantu, which Placido Polanco's replacement, Juan Castro, picked to get the out at first.
"He hit it pretty good," Castro said, "and I was thinking, if somebody hits the ball close to me, I was going to do whatever it takes to get the ball, so I was fortunate that I caught the ball and made the out."
It was Castro who made the last out, too.
Heading into the ninth with 103 pitches under his belt and 25,086 fans -- many of whom were Phillies faithful -- behind him, Halladay got pinch-hitter Mike Lamb to fly out to Shane Victorino in deep center field.
"I was going to do whatever it took," Victorino said about flagging that fly ball down.
Then came another pinch-hitter, Wes Helms, who became the sixth batter to strike out looking.
Finally, Halladay spun a 1-2 curveball to Ronny Paulino, who proceeded to ground out softly to Castro at third base, putting the ace right-hander in the history books.
"It's more a sense of relief, I think, the very first second than excitement," Halladay said about recording the final out on his 115th pitch. "Knowing you're that close, and to actually have it happen, it's a good feeling, but it's just hard to explain."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.