by Theo Mackie
On Tuesday, the baseball world was struck with the devastating news that one of the greatest pitchers of last decade, Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies legend Roy Halladay, tragically passed away at age 40. But rather than dwelling on his tragic death, this time should be used to remember what a dominant pitcher the oft-forgotten Halladay was. After struggling a little bit with command early in his career, he became one of baseball’s elite pitchers in a 2002 season in which he posted a 2.93 ERA in the middle of the steroid era. Over the next nine seasons, his mix of command, strikeout ability, and efficiency made him one baseball’s most feared pitchers. He led his league in complete games seven times, shutouts four times, innings pitched four times, and strikeout to walk ratio five times en route to becoming the fifth pitcher in history to win a Cy Young in both leagues after Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, and Randy Johnson, as well as seven-time award winner Roger Clemens. As a rival fan, I couldn’t stand him as a player but as a baseball fan, he was an absolute joy to watch. He was one of those pitchers whose appearance in your team’s upcoming schedule elicited two reactions: chalk that one up as a loss and check StubHub for tickets. Since my Nationals have come to DC, the National League has featured Madison Bumgarner, Adam Wainwright, Noah Syndergaard, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Zach Greinke, and others but the only pitchers to whom I have had that reaction are Clayton Kershaw, prime Tim Lincecum, and Halladay. Here are his five best performances:
- The playoff no-hitter. October 6, 2010. Phillies 4, Reds 0. 9 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K.
For years, Halladay had been considered one of those greats who never got to play in the postseason, much like Felix Hernandez is today. In the 2009 offseason, Halladay finally joined a contender, as the Blue Jays sent him to the reigning National League champions, the Philadelphia Phillies. After a 97 win season and the team’s fourth consecutive division title, Halladay finally got his shot at October glory. To say he made the most of it would be a criminal understatement. Halladay pitched one of the finest games not just in postseason history but in baseball history, dispatching a 91-win Reds team that led the league in batting in just 104 pitches, with only a fifth-inning, full-count walk from Jay Bruce separating Halladay from his second perfect game of the season. With the performance, he joined the legendary Don Larsen as the only players to ever pitch a postseason no-hitter.
- The perfect game. May 29, 2010. Phillies 1, Marlins 0. 9 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 11 K.
There are not many pitchers for whom a perfect game would place second on their career performances, much less their season performances but that is just how magical Halladay’s 2010 season—in which he pitched an absurd ten complete games and five shutouts—was. 115 pitches was unusually high for the most efficient pitcher since Greg Maddox, but they were 115 excellent ones as he struck out a batter in eight of nine innings and only allowed six balls to leave the infield. The Phillies needed all of it as they only managed one run against Florida ace Josh Johnson. To top it off, the performance lowered Halladay’s season ERA to an absurd 1.99.
- 10-inning complete game. April 13, 2007. Blue Jays 2, Tigers 1. 10 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K.
This might be a controversial inclusion above some of Halladay’s more dominant and memorable starts but it shows everything that made him so great. His ability to go efficiently deep into games, never walk anyone (seriously, seven straight years with less than 2 BB/9), and shut down formidable opponents is what made him a likely Hall of Famer. This game showcased all of those talents. It is the last time any pitcher has pitched an extra-inning complete game, and he did it without walking anyone against the reigning American League champions, with the only run coming on a Magglio Ordonez home run. And he did it on 107 pitches. That’s an efficient seven innings for most guys! 2007 was Halladay’s worst healthy season of his career by most statistics (still put up a 3.71 ERA and finished fifth in Cy Young voting) but his ability to produce starts like this made him feared nonetheless.
- Second career start. September 27, 1998. Blue Jays 2, Tigers 1. 9 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K.
Like most pitchers of this era, Halladay had a tendency to make Tigers’ hitters look like fools. Unlike most pitchers, he did it in his second career start. In his first ever game at the SkyDome, Halladay immediately endeared himself to the Blue Jay faithful, who despite watching Roger Clemens every fifth day, had likely never seen a performance like this one. Through 8 2/3 innings, Halladay was perfect, striking out eight in the process, before a pinch-hit home run from Bobby Higginson spoiled what would have undoubtedly been the greatest home debut any player has ever had, in any sport. Halladay didn’t become entrenched in the Toronto rotation until 2001 but his home debut three years earlier will never be forgotten by anyone who was there. And in classic Halladay fashion, he did it in 95 pitches.
- First playoff clincher. September 27, 2010. Phillies 8, Nationals 0. 9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K.
Twelve years to the day after his dominant opening act, Halladay finally clinched his first ever playoff appearance, doing so in typical dominant fashion. With a miniscule crowd of 14,309, mostly Phillies fans, on hand, Halladay did what he did best, throwing a 97-pitch Maddux to clinch the team’s fourth consecutive NL East crown. Only an Adam Dunn eighth-inning single separated Halladay from facing the minimum. That and a Wilson Ramos single prevented him from perfection—which would have made him the only pitcher to pitch two career perfect games, and, after the playoff no-hitter in his next start, only the second to pitch back-to-back no-hitters. Nonetheless, it was a dominant performance that helped secure his second Cy Young.
September 6, 2003. Blue Jays 1, Tigers 0. 10 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. This one is all the way back in his first Cy Young season and was the first extra-inning complete game of his career. Despite being a shutout, it misses the list due to being against the worst team in modern history—Halladay’s favorite punching bag, the 2003 Detroit Tigers.
October 21, 2010. Phillies 4, Giants 2. 6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K. Far from his best stat-line but one of his most clutch performances, Halladay out-dueled Tim Lincecum in a star-studded matchup to keep the Phillies alive on the road at AT&T Park in game 5 of the 2010 NLCS.
October 7, 2011. Cardinals 1, Phillies 0. 8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K. It might seem crazy to put a loss in here but this was an all-time great game. The 102 win Phillies faced the team-of-destiny Cardinals with two aces going head-to-head in a do-or-die game 5. Halladay most certainly did his part by shutting down the Cardinals after back-to-back extra base hits to open the game but he was outdone by Chris Carpenter, who delivered one of the best playoff starts of all time.