Aside from giving Roy Oswalt a difficult act to follow, there wasn't much fault to find with the way Roy Halladay opened the baseball playoffs on Wednesday.
If this is what he was saving up all those years when he missed out on the postseason, then it seems as if the postseason has been missing out on a lot as well. Halladay proved against the Reds that he is made for big-game baseball, even if his previous teams were not.
Halladay painted outlines on the inside corner and the outside corner of the plate against Cincinnati. He had all his pitches working, and all of them, from the reliable fastball to the change-up that has been missing lately, dived away from the batters upon reaching the plate as if suddenly feeling the pull of gravity. He pitched when the game was still in doubt. He pitched as the tension mounted. He even pitched several innings in the middle of the game during a steady rain.
"I'm glad we got it in - that's for sure," Halladay said.
It's a great line from the man who had just thrown only the second no-hitter in baseball postseason history, but he was serious. He always is.
Halladay was extremely serious against the Reds - something they realized early on - but he was no more serious than in an April game against the Nationals or a May game in Florida.
"I think you try to disconnect yourself from the emotions a little bit," he said. "Knowing that you've prepared yourself, you're ready, and you try to go out and execute your plan."
Mike Tyson once said everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth, and every baseball pitcher enters the game with a plan that is fine until he gets hit. That never happened to Halladay in the opener, and certainly part of it had to do with the plan, but there's no way to plan for having unhittable stuff.
"It was like a situation where you're almost helpless because the guy was dealing," said Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker.
Baker knows something about running into bad luck in the postseason. The last series he managed before this one was with the Cubs, and something about a foul ball and a guy named Bartman got in the way of Chicago's making the World Series. Now, his next series begins with a no-hitter thrown against his team. You can say it was just one game, but you wonder whether this one game won't make the Reds feel as if they are trying to push a boulder uphill in the series.
They had the nerve, after failing to get a decent bat on the ball - with the exception of a third-inning line drive by pitcher Travis Wood - to complain about umpire John Hirschbeck's strike zone. Orlando Cabrera whined about it. Scott Rolen didn't comment after his three-strikeout night, but he barked at the umpire after being called out on strikes in the fifth.
Here's what really good teams do in this situation: They tip their hats, give the guy credit, and forget the game. Here's what teams that are unsure of themselves do: what the Reds did.
"I felt like it was really a pretty fair zone," Halladay said without emotion, even though the Reds were trying to taint his no-hitter. "From what I saw in between innings, they were calling the same pitches that I was getting."
It helps when you throw a first-pitch strike to 25 of the 28 hitters you face, and when, as the game goes on and the frustration grows for the other team, you seem to get even better. Halladay needed just 17 pitches to get through the final two innings. Only two of them were out of the strike zone. There were two strikeouts among the last six batters, two pops fielded by infielders, a soft comebacker to the mound and the final out - a topper by leadoff hitter Brandon Phillips that nestled against his bat just in front of the plate. Carlos Ruiz picked it up gingerly and gunned to first to begin the celebration.
"Surreal" is how Halladay described the feeling after the last out, when Ruiz rushed out to embrace him, and the whole team crowded around, and the 46,411 in Citizens Bank Park waved their towels and told one another they had just seen history.
Halladay did earn himself a place in baseball lore with the postseason no-hitter, and he earned his team a momentum-building win in the process. If you have listened carefully to Halladay this season, as incredible as it sounds, the win means more than the no-hitter. He had great games before. He pitched a perfect game before. But he never won a postseason game before, and after all those seasons of waiting, that is what meant the most.
"We're one game up," Halladay said. "We've got to win two more."
Your turn, Mr. Oswalt.
Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.