Everybody, including home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck, knew that Roy Halladay was working on a no-hitter. And Hirschbeck instinctively understood he might be the only one who couldn't let himself get caught up in the increasing frenzy around him.
Only after it was over, after Halladay put the finishing touch on his second no-no of the season and the Phillies beat the Reds, 4-0, in Game 1 of their National League Division Series, did the veteran crew chief realize the full magnitude of what he had been a part of.
"When we came in, I knew, of course, that it was a no-hitter. But they told me it had only happened one time in the postseason, with Don Larsen for a perfect game [in 1956]. So that made it even that much more exciting," he said.
Let's be honest, the umpires don't like thinking about what happened in June, when Jim Joyce, working first base, missed a call that cost Tigers starter Armando Galarraga a perfect game. But you can bet it had to cross their minds. They don't want to become part of the story.
Hirschbeck didn't. The only apparent disagreement came from Reds third baseman Scott Rolen after a called third strike in the fifth.
Hirschbeck said the only thing he focused on was trying to do everything the same as he would if it had been a midseason, 10-0 game between the Mariners and Royals.
"Just to remain calm," he said. "The higher the atmosphere gets and the more tense it gets, especially in playoff games, to bring myself down and just stay slow and try to do all the things you do normally. It's even harder, because you can't go with the atmosphere. So that's all I concentrated on.
"You know what's going on. I was aware of it. It was the fourth inning when I first noticed it. And then, as each inning goes on, you're not going to forget about it. I thought to myself, 'Wow, he's got really good stuff.' I didn't think it was going to end up the way it was, but I did think he had really good stuff."
Now John Hirschbeck and Babe Pinelli are the only home-plate umpires ever to call a postseason no-hitter. "It's kind of neat," Hirschbeck said.
The leftfield umpire when Don Larsen pitched his 2-0 perfect game over Brooklyn at Yankee Stadium 54 years ago tomorrow was Tom Gorman. Ed Runge worked the rightfield line.
Both have sons, Brian Gorman and Brian Runge, currently working as big-league umps.
The turning point
With the Phillies leading, 1-0, there were two outs and nobody on base when Cincinnati starter Edinson Volquez walked Carlos Ruiz on four pitches.
He could have survived that, though, when Wilson Valdez hit a grounder up the middle that was fielded by shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Except that Cabrera couldn't get the ball out of his glove, and both runners were safe.
That brought the pitcher to the plate. Volquez grooved a first-pitch fastball to Roy Halladay and the veteran jumped on it, lining an RBI single to left.
After that, the wheels fell off for Volquez. He walked Jimmy Rollins to load the bases, Shane Victorino singled to score two more runs, and Volquez was gone.
If the Reds had taken advantage of any of their three chances to stay within a run, maybe Volquez would have settled in and pitched a good game. Maybe Halladay, without an early cushion, wouldn't have been able to be quite as aggressive. Maybe he wouldn't have pitched a no-hitter. We'll never know, though, will we?
Reds manager Dusty Baker knows his team better than any outsiders. Still, you have to wonder whether he regrets his decision not to start rookie lefthander Travis Wood last night. Or at least in one of the games of the NLDS.
Wood pitched eight perfect innings against the Phillies at The Bank in July. But Baker explained that Wood’s inexperience and the fact that the Phillies have now seen him this year dictated a rotation of Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto.
The problem is that Volquez lasted only 1.2 innings and allowed four runs. Wood then came in and shut the Phillies out on one hit for 3.1 innings. You can’t assume he would have been equally effective if he had started. But you can at least wonder.
The Phillies scored four runs for Roy Halladay in the first two innings last night. That’s more than they scored in the entire game in 17 of his 33 regular-season starts.
Still more umpire stuff
Bruce Dreckman, who umpired his first big-league game in 1997, will be behind the plate for Game 2 tomorrow night. According to baseball-reference.com, both starting pitchers have done well in the past when he’s called balls and strikes.
Phillies righthander Roy Oswalt is 0-2 with three no-decisions with Dreckman, but has a 2.30 earned run average and has walked only three, with 29 strikeouts. Opponents are batting .295 against him.
Reds righthander Bronson Arroyo is 3-0, 2.49 in four games with a .189 opponent’s batting average.
In a story in yesterday's Los Angeles Times former Phillies centerfielder Lenny Dykstra insists he's still emerging from the bankruptcy that has grounded his high-flying lifestyle. In the story, Dykstra acknowledged that before moving into a two-bedroom apartment in Westwood, Calif., last winter, he lived a hardscrabble existence for a while, including living in an airplane hangar and in his car.
“I was a wanderer, dude. I was like Gandhi. He lived out of a bag,” Dykstra is quoted as saying. The article also claims he’s several months behind in the rent on his apartment.