I can’t offer you some obscure stat about Roy Halladay because I don’t have any that are my own. There’s nothing to discuss about his Hall of Fame candidacy — he was all but a lock before Wednesday, barring unforeseen injury or precipitous decline.
All that I can share with you regarding Halladay’s postseason no-hitter is admiration — unmitigated awe, really — and the suggestion that this is something truly extraordinary (which you already knew). Not because of improbability or painstakingly obscure minutiae (the kind we baseball nerds normally revel in) but because for a solitary day, an individual trumped the final scores of three games during the time of the year when those are all that’s supposed to matter.
Yes, the Rangers and Phillies and Yankees won, greatly improving their respective odds of moving onto the League Championship Series, but all of that was merely an afterthought on Doc’s Day.
Halladay’s postseason no-hitter was a rare feat, to be sure, only the second in MLB history (and the first since Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956). It was an elite hurler pitching at his highest level on the game’s biggest stage. But it was more than all of that, really, because of who Halladay is and how he pitches and how we watch him.
Yes, I’ve seen other dominant pitchers, some of whom were simply better than Doc.
Randy Johnson, for one, was seething fury. He was the gangly southpaw who seemed to be two steps from the plate by the time his whizzing fastball was finally released from his wiry fingers.
Pedro Martinez, another, was pint-sized but unleashed boring heaters and kneebuckling curveballs until he made you look silly with a diving changeup. His repertoire was an embarrassment of riches. He was the new Sandy Koufax.
In contemporary terms, Tim Lincecum, the diminutive whirling dervish, reminds me of Pedro, and Johan Santana has that ridiculous changeup, although he looks to be beyond his peak now.
Doc is some of those things, but he’s none of them, exactly. He’s a workman, approaching each pitch with the exactness of an engineer. He repeats his delivery uncannily. He can’t sacrifice his command to blow a 99-mph fastball by you. He cuts and sinks everything. There’s hardly a discernible difference between the speeds or trajectories of his pitches to the naked eye, save for the occasional loopy breaker. He’s stoic and composed, but he allows himself a self-reprimand every so often.
He’s the perfect intersection of raw talent and intelligence and durability and determination. He’s baseball’s Roger Federer.
And to watch Doc pitch is to understand that baseball, for all the trite teamwork cliches we’re taught in Little League, is truly an individual game insofar as there are those few rare players who can leave their stamps on a game with both their performance and unrefined will. He treats each batter as if it were the last he’ll face. He concedes nothing to anyone. He’s as singularly focused a player as I’ve ever seen, which, admittedly, would mean little if he weren’t of otherworldly ability. But he is. And that’s why he’s so easy to root for.
When someone like this comes along and plies his trade where it’s visible to even the most casual fans, we have no choice but to laud it. It’s not about the Phillies or Rangers or Yankees or whoever after an accomplishment of this magnitude. OK, I’ll allow for Reds fans to ignore the big picture just this one time. But otherwise, this is about sheer captivation.
In the wake of Halladay’s outing, I was talking to my friend Esoteric, scribe over at sportsangle.com. He summed up Halladay’s universal appeal quite nicely.
“I absolutely love the guy, and I’m a Mets fan.”
This was truly a transcendent performance, an artistic masterpiece. Offensive feats bear an entirely different timbre. A hitter has only a precious few at-bats per game in which to hit a milestone home run, for example. A pitching outing like Halladay’s, though, is protracted. It has a grand rhythm, and within that, there are smaller ones — between each pitch, batter and inning. With each of those that passes without that ever-looming first hit, the tension mounts and the unlikely becomes increasingly within reach.
The no-hitter, in and of itself, isn’t such a rare feat. There’s been 266 of them in baseball history (OK, that’s one stat). Modern analysis tells us that the perfect storm of circumstances can conspire to immortalize some underwhelming pitcher on any given night, guys like Dallas Braden and (almost) Armando Galarraga.
But a no-hitter can’t make those guys anything more than the answer to a midseason trivia question on a local network. What a no-no can do, though, is make a star like Doc that much better, that much more heralded and celebrated. We don’t have to look at this one skeptically. We don’t have to (erroneously) chalk it up to the decline of steroids or the reemergence of big ballparks or the rediscovered emphasis on team defense. We already knew how great Halladay was before Wednesday, and that’s what’s extra special about this.
The guy is just a really, really good pitcher.
It was the fitting supplement to Doc’s perfecto in May. Yes, he threw a perfect game and a postseason no-hitter in the same year. Not bad, eh? But the perfecto, that was an entirely different epic. It took place in Florida, in the season’s second month. A few people watched, sure, and everyone heard about it after the fact, but it may as well have taken place in … well, there’s not really a better example of Baseball Siberia than Florida.
On that day, Halladay became immortal, but on Wednesday he became somehow managed to become bigger than baseball’s biggest games. And for that, he stands alone.