When I woke up last Wednesday morning, the first piece of news that I came across was of Roy Halladay’s passing. An amphibious airplane that he was piloting crashed into the sea. He was only forty years old.
Halladay was one of the most exceptional starting pitchers in baseball during the past decade. He started his big league career in 1998 with the Toronto Blue Jays, establishing himself as one of the best and most respected pitchers in the game. He transferred to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010, where he continued his run of brilliance until injuries slowed him late in his career. He retired after the 2013 season. He was a two-time Cy Young Award winner and an eight-time All-Star selection. The two highlights of his career came from his outstanding 2010 season, his first in a Phillies uniform. He pitched a perfect game against the Marlins in May and then a no-hitter in the NLDS against the Reds. They were truly magnificent performances, showing that Halladay was the best pitcher in the world that year. He was unmatched.
Among the countless tributes was this gem by Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy saying, “Roy Halladay was your favorite player’s favorite player.” The former closer for the Brewers John Axford also shared how he emulated Halladay on his way to a call up to the big leagues. When Charlie Morton was with the Pirates a few years ago, he tailored his wind-up delivery to look like a duplicate of Halladay’s. He’s found a career resurgence recently, as I very well know, having seen him earn a couple of big Game 7 wins for the Astros in this year’s ALCS and World Series.
When I started to become a baseball fan, Roy Halladay was the first player that I truly idolized. Back then, at age 12, I developed a mild obsession with pitching statistics—win-loss records, ERA, strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, shutouts. Right away, I noticed one pitcher whose numbers were unlike anyone else’s. Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay: The man with the insane amount of complete games. I did a little research, reading up articles about this fascinating pitcher. I learned about his stoic demeanor on the mound—always poised and composed. I learned about how he was once taught by a pitching coach to master two pitches: a sinker and a cutter. He was told to aim for the middle of the plate; that way the sinker would go down and away from a left-handed batter, the cutter down and away from a right-handed batter. ‘Doc’ mastered it and built a career out of inducing quick groundball outs. Efficiency was the name of the game. Low pitch counts meant he could pitch more innings. At a time when the game’s most efficient pitcher Greg Maddux’s career was already waning, it seemed clear that Halladay was the successor to his legend.
I still remember the first time I saw Roy Halladay pitch. It was a late September game in 2007 between the Blue Jays and the Yankees. I couldn’t find any archived video footage for reference so I could only rely on memory (I saw the live game on TV and two re-runs) and a box score recap from Baseball Reference.
The game turned out to be a pitching duel between him and the Yankees’ Chien-Ming Wang. Like Halladay, Wang also had a heavy sinking fastball. Both Blue Jay and Yankee hitters were hitting into groundball outs. In the seventh inning, the Blue Jays finally rallied to score two runs off Wang as Halladay continued to hold down the fort for Toronto. Being new to baseball at that time, it was very seldom for me to see a pitcher pile up so many easy outs and continue pitching deep into the game. In fact, I was still so new to the sport at that time, that I had yet to see anyone throw a complete game.
Trying to nail down the shutout, Halladay came back in for the ninth, with the top of the Yankees order due up. He had a four-run lead and still looked fresh, as if he could pitch into the next day. He’s got this, I thought. A string of Yankee hits leads to a run but Halladay still managed to get two outs. The last hope for the Yankees was Jorge Posada. The Yankees catcher hits a groundball but reaches safely due to a throwing error, leading to another Yankees run. Toronto manager John Gibbons takes the ball from Halladay to end his night. Show’s over. I was really rooting for him to get that complete game.
With a 4-2 lead and one out away from a win, Blue Jays reliever Scott Downs would give up consecutive run-scoring singles. When the Yankees tied the game, the camera panned to Halladay in the dugout, wide-eyed and completely stunned. The look in his eyes was of complete astonishment and I imagine he’d also gritted his teeth. I sympathized with him, seeing how such a wonderfully pitched game was squandered. The Blue Jays at least managed to win in extra innings.
In that game against the Yankees, I felt like I witnessed a master’s showcase of his specialty. He was one out shy of the complete game win but his performance—picking apart the opposing lineup for an entire game—was really just a typical day in the office for ‘Doc.’ Truly, his career was that of brilliance and mastery.
He was a pitcher idolized by many. “Your favorite player’s favorite player,” indeed. May he rest peacefully.