You can't script this better.
As Roy Oswalt was finishing his pregame press conference in Philadelphia yesterday, Cliff Lee was throwing his first pitch of the 2010 postseason.
And Roy Halladay was, you know, preparing for his first postseason start.
A near-perfect no-hitter.
With amazing command of all four pitches and a surprising reliance on a 78-mile-an-hour curveball as his strikeout pitch, Halladay fanned eight Reds, three coming during an incredibly dominant stretch of the seventh and eighth inning, when Halladay threw seven pitches and still managed to strike out Johnny Gomes and Drew Stubbs. He ended it by getting a tapper in front of the plate to conclude a 4-0 win in Game 1 of the NL Division Series against Cincinnati.
"It’s surreal," Halladay said. "I just wanted to pitich in the postseason. To go out and pitch a game like that is a dream come true."
His no-hitter was the first in the postseason since Don Larsen's perfect game on Oct. 8, 1956 for the Yankees. It is the 11th no-hitter in Phillies history.
There are all sorts of Phillies angles in this postseason, from Scott Rolen's first playoff appearance as an opponent (he was roundly booed), to a potential next-round matchup with Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand.
But the best is this three-act play involving Halladay, Lee, the prodigal ace, and Oswalt, acquired at the trade deadline to fill a gaping hole that would not have been there if Lee was allowed to pitch out his option here.
By the time Halladay had thrown the first pitch of his first-game masterpiece, Lee's sixth postseason win in as many tries was in the books. By Lee's standards it was pretty pedestrian - he allowed five hits and a run and struck out 10 over seven innings pitched. But it still set up the potential for a long day of radio talk should Halladay's first postseason start belie his regular-season success.
It did not. Through rain, through long innings watching his team grind out at bats and even an RBI foray on the basepaths, Halladay answered Lee s gem with his diamond, allowing only a fifth-inning walk to Jay Bruce on a 3-2 pitch that dove low. He treated the National League's most potent regular-season lineup as if they were the Mets. Or Marlins.
"This is what you come here for," Halladay said. "This team, they know how to win … It’s been a great year, a fun year. We have a ways to go. We have a veteran team and I can’t say enough about them."
Now it's Oswalt's turn. He's a seasoned and superb postseason pitcher already, 4-0 in the postseason with a 3.63 earned run average. But that doesn't mean there's any less pressure on him today than there was on Halladay yesterday. Oswalt may have saved the season, may have put up second-half regular-season numbers that were actually superior to Lee's of a year ago, but Lee's 4-0 was all done as a Phillie last postseason, was the biggest reason they went as far as they did.
Oh, and he has to follow this. More great history for a team that is already unforgettable.
Here are more comments from Halladay during his postgame news conference:
On nerves about his first postseason start: “You try and disconnect from the emotions a little bit. You try to go out and execute your plan. Once the game started I felt like I was able to do that. I wasn’t thinking about all that stuff, first playoff or anything. It was go out and try to execute the plan. That made it a lot easier. It was a challenge that I’ve looked forward to. Excited is a better word to describe it than nervous. It was a lot of fun to look forward to this game.”
On the pitches that worked best: “I thought we used everything pretty well tonight. Changeup was a big for me today, curveball was good. I know I always go back to Ruiz. He has done a great job of recognizing early on what’s working, what’s effective. The changeup has been a little hit or miss for me, but he recognized it early and continued to call it… we were aggressive and made good pitches.”
On when he knew what could happen: “I would say by the fifth or sixth… It’s definitely not something you’re trying to do. As soon as you try to do it, it takes you out of your plan. I knew what was going on, I was aware of it … I was trying to keep focus on what was going on in the game. … When you’re out there, your only job is to help your team to win the game. If you can keep that focus off yourself and on your team you can help yourself.”
On being in the company of Don Larsen: “I’m not really yet. At this point, we’re one game up. We’ve got to win two more. I think these are types of things once the season is over you are able to soak it all in and enjoy it. Right now, it’s easy to keep your focus on the team, especially at this point in the season, knowing we need a couple more wins to move on.”
On the crowd: “When it gets that loud, it’s hard to ignore it. The last three innings it seemed like it got louder every inning. One of the most electric atmospheres I’ve ever been in. It was pretty neat.”
On teammates: “It’s a great atmosphere and been that way all year. We feel that team unity and it’s a great thing to be a part of.”
On the weather: “I didn’t have to change anything. It definitely got sticky. You spend some time cleaning your shoes in between innings. It never got slick, never got out of control. I’m glad we got it in,that’s for sure. It wasn’t a problem. It didn’t change anything about the way you went about it.”