By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2010; D1
PHILADELPHIA - In the last 54 years of baseball history prior to Wednesday night, there had been 952 postseason games played, all of which shared two common traits of omission: None had ever included a no-hit game, and none had ever been graced by Harry Leroy Halladay.
But on a chilly, drizzly night at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, first one historic void was filled, and then the other. At 5:08 p.m., Roy Halladay, the Phillies' brilliant right-hander, threw the first postseason pitch of his career, and at 7:42 p.m. baseball's first postseason no-hitter since 1956 was complete.
Halladay, 33, turned his postseason debut into the most monumental pitching performance in a half-century of baseball history - holding the Cincinnati Reds hitless in a 4-0 Phillies victory in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Only Don Larsen, author of the fabled 1956 World Series perfect game for the New York Yankees, had thrown a no-hit game in the playoffs - a fact that held up for generations, even as baseball expanded its postseason, first to two rounds, then three. Only a fifth-inning walk to Jay Bruce kept Halladay's gem from being equally perfect.
"It's surreal," Halladay said. "I just wanted to pitch in the postseason. To pitch a game like this is just a dream come true."
The crowd of 46,411 rose to its feet in anticipation the moment the bottom of the eighth inning was complete, as Halladay emerged from the Phillies' dugout and jogged to the mound to pitch the ninth.
"It seemed like it got louder every inning," Halladay said.
Halladay got Ramon Hernandez to pop up to second. One out. Pinch hitter Miguel Cairo lifted a foul pop that Phillies third baseman Wilson Valdez caught halfway between the foul line and railing. Two outs.
Brandon Phillips, the Reds' shortstop, came to the plate, the noise rivaling anything Phillies fans produced during the 2008 run to the World Series title. On an 0-2 pitch, Phillips barely made contact, pushing a dribbler in front of home plate. Catcher Carlos Ruiz fielded the ball just as it hit Phillips's bat, and threw over Phillips's left shoulder to first baseman Ryan Howard.
Three outs. Bedlam.
Halladay, who had thrown a perfect game in Florida in May, raised his arms and awaited what he knew was coming: a full-body hug from Ruiz, followed by a wild, teeming parade of teammates flying out of the Phillies' dugout toward him.
"It's hard to explain," said Halladay, demonstrating his legendary ability to maintain his focus, "but pitching a game like that - being able to win the game comes first. Once it ends, it's a little bit surreal to know some of that [historical] stuff."
This much is clear now: All those recent Octobers that went by with Halladay stuck at home, while lesser pitchers hogged the stage, it was not Halladay himself that was cheated. It was baseball.
Twelve years and 2,2971/3 innings into his career, and perhaps three years into his reign as the best pitcher on the planet, Halladay was at the center of the diamond and the center of the baseball universe. As the Phillies opened the defense of their 2008 and 2009 NL pennants, the gangly, stone-faced right-hander - who hadn't been around for either of them - was unquestionably the one they wanted on the mound for Game 1.
Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins normally says something encouraging to Halladay before each of the latter's start, but on Wednesday afternoon, Halladay looked particularly locked in, and was wearing headphones, so Rollins left him alone.
"He looked," Rollins said later, "like he was in a different world."
Halladay took the mound for the first inning to thunderous applause, and promptly mowed down the Reds on 10 pitches, walking slowly back to the dugout with his head down when it was over.
He rarely required much more effort, or showed much more emotion, than that.
Having never been on this stage before, Halladay pitched as if, at any moment, someone might flip a switch and put him back on his couch in Florida, wearing shorts and flip-flops and watching another postseason go by on TV. He took the ball, stood on the rubber, and threw. He wasted no pitches. He mowed down the Reds, inning after inning, history drawing nearer with each delivery.
"He didn't throw anything down the heart of the plate," Reds Manager Dusty Baker said. "Everything was on the corners, and moving. . . . You're almost helpless, because the guy is dealing."
Halladay's half-innings seemed to fly by, while the half-innings with the Phillies at the plate - even as their offense ground to a halt after chasing Reds starter Edinson Volquez with four runs in the first two innings - seemed to last forever.
"After about the sixth inning," Manager Charlie Manuel said, "it got real quiet [in the dugout]. People just stayed in their seat and sat there and watched the game."
Halladay's command of all four of his pitches - a sinking fastball, a cutter, curve and change-up - was impeccable, perhaps aided (as some of the Reds grumbled afterward) by umpire John Hirschbeck's generous strike zone. He threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 28 batters he faced. He struck out Scott Rolen, Cincinnati's all-star third baseman, three times - once each on a change-up, a fastball and a curveball.
"Filthy," Rollins marveled. "Completely filthy."
While the Phillies' defense, particularly the infield, was superb behind him, only once did Halladay require an extraordinary defensive effort - that in the third inning, when Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth made a sliding catch of a sinking liner off the bat of Reds pitcher Travis Wood.
Halladay, his first and last fastballs clocking in at 93 mph, looked like he could have gone all night without giving up a hit. But 27 outs, nine innings felt just about right, if not quite perfect.