PITTSBURGH - The cutter backed up on Roy Halladay, caught Andrew McCutchen between the hip and butt. The boos from the 39,585 at PNC Park were loud and instantaneous, a good thing since the usual April crowd in this place might have otherwise heard the expletive the Phillies ace screamed as he pivoted toward the centerfield wall.
This was in the fourth inning of a scoreless game Thursday, a game that already mirrored the last real game Halladay had pitched in, a game in which the margin of error was again microscopic. The Phillies had three singles against Pirates starter Erik Bedard up to that point. Halladay had surrendered two straight singles to start the game, escaped via the doubleplay, was cruising since.
His pitch count was low.
And then this.
"That's not what you're trying to do," he said later, after the Phillies opened their 2012 season on the good end of the same 1-0 score that ended their season 6 months ago. "I'm trying to get in there, make a quality pitch in there off the plate. But you don't want to give someone a free base there. You don't want to put speed on.
"I was frustrated."
He has been called robotic by those not around him on a daily basis, a compliment and a cut in the same breath, I suppose. The label comes from his approach, his preparation and from what is best described as a monk's humility. Roy Halladay will never complain about wind-blown home runs or fool himself into thinking he pitched better than he did. For example, after eight innings of shutout pitching, he spoke about honing his sinker "as the season goes on. Use it to both sides of the plate."
He allowed two hits to start the game then not another. He threw 92 pitches, 65 for strikes. And he lost his temper twice, albeit momentarily, the second time when he plunked Clint Barmes with one of those wayward sinkers in the eighth inning, prompting a slow walk to the mound from his catcher.
"I just wanted to make sure," Ruiz said. "Letting him know that it was still 1-0, and there was two outs, and he still had the stuff to get the next out."
Chooch went back into his crouch and pinch-hitter Nate McLouth pulled an inside fastball into the seats along rightfield. Three pitches later, Halladay threw possibly his slowest changeup of the day, and McLouth corkscrewed himself into the ace's fifth and final strikeout.
The game lasted 2 hours and 14 minutes and fed the fears of the masses even as it plopped the Phillies into a first-place tie with the Mets and Nationals, already a game ahead of both the Braves and 1 1/2 in front of the Marlins. The Phillies finished with eight hits against Bedard and two relievers, but their only extra-base hit was John Mayberry's opposite-field, seventh-inning double - which led to their only run.
Mayberry was one of the concerns coming out of spring. And he was Bugs Bunny out there, running down balls in left and notching two hits.
Then again, the vaunted Marlins lineup has scored one run in their first two games, and the Braves were shut out by the Mets.
"Opening Day . . . you're facing everybody's ace," Mayberry said. "So they're not leaving many over the plate."
Halladay wasn't perfect. But he attacked, as always. After cursing the fates when he plunked McCutchen, he retired the next 13 without overpowering anyone. Barmes launched one to the wall in the fifth that Mayberry ran down, leaping to grab it.
"Any time you're in a close game like that, every pitch is gonna matter," Halladay said. "Any pitch, any at-bat can change the outcome of a game. So that's always in your mind. But you're still trying to simplify the game and make quality pitches.
"You can't really pitch to the scoreboard. I know it sounds strange but you go out and try to keep guys from scoring the whole game, regardless. You don't change the game plan. I think any time you go out there thinking, 'I can't give up a run, or two runs,' it affects the way you pitch. So for me it's just keeping it simple. Go out and try to make pitches and try to keep as many runs off the board as possible. Regardless of who is in the lineup or what the score is."
He did that for eight innings, for 92 pitches. And when pitching coach Rich Dubee walked up to tell him he was done, "I didn't fight him," Halladay said.
"In spring training, your seven innings of up and downs can be different," he said. "So I understand at this point.
"A couple weeks from now, though, I'm going to fight him."
Contact Sam Donnellon at email@example.com