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Bob Ryan

Phillies have the complete package in Halladay

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 7, 2010

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PHILADELPHIA — They were applauding as Charlie Manuel went to the mound with two away in the seventh inning. One run was in, there were men on first and third, and Roy Halladay had thrown 118 pitches. The contemporary fan knows the big righthander was anywhere from eight to 18 pitches over any normal 2010 limit.

But when the conference on the mound was over, the Phillies manager made his way back to the dugout alone.

“I just said to him, ‘OK, Roy, here I am, where you at?’ ’’ explained the folksy Manuel. “And he said, ‘I’m fine. I can get this guy. I want him.’ ’’

It took one pitch for Matt Holliday to hit a harmless grounder to second. Then, and only then, was Roy Halladay’s workday completed. Moral of the story for Phillies fans: This Roy Halladay guy is not like everybody else.

If the 32-year-old Halladay is not the very best pitcher in baseball, he is, as Dizzy Dean might have said, among ’em. With yesterday’s 7-2 dispatch of the St. Louis Cardinals, Halladay is 6-1 with a 1.45 ERA. No one in Philadelphia is threatening to call the Better Business Bureau complaining about consumer fraud. Roy Halladay is the same guy he’s always been. In fact, pitching in the JV circuit might make him even more effective.

This wasn’t Halladay at his best. Regardless, it was good enough to hold the Central Division-leading Cards to seven hits and two runs (one earned) during those seven innings of work.

After rattling off Halladay’s numbers to start his postgame media session, Manuel got down to business.

“His command was real close with a lot of pitches,’’ he said. “At the same time, he said he can do better. I felt I definitely had to take him out after seven innings. I asked him about Holliday, and he said he still had enough. And he did.’’

“I’m glad he gave me that chance,’’ Halladay said. “I appreciate it. That makes you want to get out of it even more.’’

Putting Roy Halladay on the Philadelphia Phillies was almost fiendish. Here you have a premier pitcher augmented by what remains the National League’s most explosive offense, even without shortstop and former MVP Jimmy Rollins, out since April 12 with a calf problem.

Jayson Werth’s three-run homer in the bottom of the first gave him all the runs he would need. It was 5-1 after two, and handing Halladay a 5-1 lead is borderline mortal-lock territory.

“Obviously, an offense like this makes all the difference,’’ he said. “You can pitch in and out of trouble more easily with runs on the board.’’

What passed for suspense in this game occurred in the fifth inning, when a leadoff single by Tyler Greene, plus walks to Skip Schumaker and Albert Pujols (a verrrrry close 3-and-2 pitch on which the great slugger’s rep appeared to have more cachet than Halladay’s with plate umpire Mike Everitt) loaded the bases for Holliday. The count went to 3-and-2 again, and Halladay had a nice surprise ready for Holliday in the form of a take-something-off-it curve clocked at 79 m.p.h., on which Holliday took a mighty swing and came up empty.

All this frivolity took place in what was laughingly labeled a “Businessperson’s Special’’ at Citizens Bank Park (as if anyone was going back to work). There was a blue sky, a brisk wind blowing left to right, and a crowd of 44,831 having a very nice time in a cozy seven-year-old ballpark that now has as much pizzazz and baseball atmosphere as any park in America.

Not so long ago, baseball was a lost cause in this town. “It was beyond dead,’’ pointed out ESPN.com sage Jayson Stark, who covered the Phillies for the Philadelphia Inquirer in the Bad Old Days. “The Phillies didn’t just trail the Eagles, Flyers, and 76ers. They were behind Arena Football. There were plenty of nights when 6,000 people were rattling around in the Vet.’’

No one is mourning the demise of Veterans Stadium, a utilitarian edifice that was the home for both the Phillies and Eagles. It was a venue, period. It was never a ballpark, even if it was the stadium in which the 1980 Phillies clinched the World Series (with scores of mounted policemen and attack dogs ready to corral any wayward fans, if need be).

Now everyone has a new playpen here in South Philly. The Eagles have Lincoln Financial Field. The Flyers and 76ers have the Wachovia Center. And the Phillies have Citizens Bank Park, which has a sellout streak of 55 in progress.

The Phillies are one year removed from winning another championship, and they are favored to make it three World Series trips in succession, having exchanged last year’s pitching sensation, Cliff Lee, for Halladay, who is making a seamless transition from the American League to the National.

“Everything is new,’’ said Halladay. “But I’m enjoying these challenges.’’

Manuel gave him one piece of advice.

“He said the big thing in this league is to stay strong in the bottom part of the order,’’ Halladay explained. “Get the guys out you’re supposed to get out. Don’t get careless with the guy in the eighth spot, thinking about the pitcher coming up. Get the guys out you’re supposed to.’’

The home team played with a special purpose yesterday after learning that Phillies great Robin Roberts had died at age 83 at his Florida home. The Hall of Famer had established personal relationships with many of the players with annual visits to spring training, and that list included Halladay, whom Roberts had sought out this spring.

Halladay is something of a latter-day Roberts, given his durability and work habits, not to mention his career W’s and L’s. But the standards are a bit different. Halladay is in a current class by himself with 52 career complete games and an average of 237 innings pitched over the past three seasons. Roberts, however, averaged 327 innings per while finishing 69 percent of his 232 starts during a six-year period from 1950-55, when he won 20 games or more each season.

“The game has changed,’’ Halladay said. “Those were the days of four-man rotations. But they were special people, and you can only aspire to be as good as someone like him.’’

It doesn’t matter. The Phillies are very content with the 2010 Roy Halladay. Who wouldn’t be?

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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