Updated: Saturday, October 16, 2010, 2:04 AM
Maybe the answer has something to do with airplanes.
For all their obvious differences, Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum share top billing for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series because they are arguably the two best pitchers in the NL, if not all of baseball.
At 6-foot-6, with a delivery straight out of a coaching manual, Halladay is the prototype major-league pitcher. He is making his second career postseason start after throwing a no-hitter last week in his first.
At 5-11, the skinny Lincecum throws the ball as if he's falling off his skateboard, his shaggy hair flying up around his face. He is making his second career postseason start after throwing a two-hitter last week in his first.
They couldn't look or pitch or, frankly, be more different. Halladay is more likely to have some self-help books-on-tape in his car than the wacky tabacky Lincecum was cited for last year. Halladay's nickname, "Doc," suggests the cool, clinical professional who inspires confidence. Lincecum's, "The Freak," is self-explanatory.
"It's a great part about this game," Halladay said. "You don't have to be 6-9 and 280 to be a defensive lineman. You can take all different shapes and sizes and do the job."
So the question is what common thread runs through these two very different pitching aces? And the answer may have to do with airplanes - or at least fathers who understand aerodynamics.
Halladay's father, Roy Jr., is a commercial pilot. When the family moved to the Denver suburb of Arvada, he built a pitcher's mound in the basement for his only son to practice on. Roy III was taken to see elite pitching coaches as a teen and never got off that track.
Lincecum's father, Chris, works for Boeing, which has been credited (or blamed) for the loud, don't-call-it-grunge rock scene that exploded in Seattle when Tim was in elementary school. Chris famously taught Tim the quirky pitching motion that confounds hitters and pitching coaches alike.
Pushed along by their fathers, Halladay and Lincecum followed the paths that led them to this epic Game 1 showdown. Both have dominated in the major leagues. One of them, however, got desperately lost along the way and needed help to find himself.
Ironically, it wasn't the kid with the X Games demeanor and crazy windup. It was Halladay. Before he became Doc, he had to spend some time with the doctor.
"When I met him, he was innocent, naive, about the mental part of the game," Harvey Dorfman said by phone the other day. "Now he gets it. He applies it. He integrates information into behavior. It's not like in school, where you get high grades for what you know. In baseball, you get high grades for what you do."
Dorfman isn't actually a doctor. He has a master's degree in education. But he is seen as a guru by a lot of major-league players, including Halladay and several other Phillies.
"Every team should have a Harvey Dorfman," said Jamie Moyer, who has his baseball-playing sons reading Dorfman's books. "What makes him special is that he's able to take the person that he's talking to or working with and learn you. He tries to get inside your head and get you to understand yourself. He gives you some tools to grow upon.
"Roy exudes what Harvey teaches. He has taken it to the highest level."
"To have him on speed-dial is a pretty good thing," Brad Lidge said of Dorfman. "I'm sure a lot of guys do."
When Halladay was 23 and pitching for the Blue Jays, he simply lost his way. The team sent him to the low minors coming out of 2001 spring training. He worked there with pitching coach Mel Queen, who rebuilt Halladay's physical approach from the ground up.
While Queen took care of his mechanics, it was Dorfman's book The Mental ABC's of Pitching that changed Halladay's mental approach. His wife came upon the book in a store and handed it over. Within a year, Halladay met the author in Toronto.
"He's a remarkable guy," Dorfman said. "What pleases any teacher best is to have good students."
Halladay may be the best of all. Dorfman famously worked with Greg Maddux, who had a Hall of Fame career without the greatest raw material in the world.
"Roy pitches above the neck like Maddux," Dorfman said. "You take tools like that, and then you have the ability to use them so well. It isn't a question of being perfect. It's a question of knowing your imperfections and correcting them."
Halladay still regularly consults The Mental ABC's of Pitching, a book "that has been passed around our clubhouse to every pitcher," according to Lidge. "The biggest thing is, it just makes each pitch more robotic. You're taking out so many things in the game that you can't control and you're just focused on your execution."
And Halladay still regularly consults Dorfman.
"We talked prior to his last start," Dorfman said. "I recognized that he wasn't approaching things in the ideal way. He just didn't look right to me and to himself, more importantly. That's what is so wonderful about him."
After a few less-than-Doc-like late-season outings, Halladay was regrouping and refocusing for the postseason debut he'd waited for so long.
"So many guys talk about getting there and wait a long time to get there and then, when they do, they soil themselves," Dorfman said.
Halladay threw a no-hitter.
"Impeccable," Dorfman said. "I sent him an e-mail with one word in it: 'Masterful.' "
The very next night, Lincecum struck out 14 Atlanta Braves to win the first game of that division series. The two aces have been on a collision course ever since. In the Year of the Pitcher, it shapes up as the pitching matchup of the year.
"What time is the game?" Phillies manager Charlie Manuel asked. "Eight? 7:57? I think that's when we're going to find out."
Read full story: Phil Sheridan: Doc and the Freak: Opposites with similar success