Bill Conlin: Phillies' Halladay wins, but falls short of typical masterpiece

Roy Halladay was less than perfect against the Mets yesterday, but still won his 14th game.
Roy Halladay was less than perfect against the Mets yesterday, but still won his 14th game.
Posted: August 09, 2010

LEONARDO DA VINCI didn't crank out a Mona Lisa every time he picked up a brush and asked his model to crack a mysterious smile.

Ludwig von Beethoven had to tickle the 88s for years before the notes turned into his Ninth Symphony.

Frank Lloyd Wright filled a couple of dumpsters with discarded blueprints before designing a building as magnificent as New York's Guggenheim Museum.

In the first and seventh innings yesterday, Roy Halladay, the Phillies' resident genius, was a boardwalk artist scrawling poor portraits of sunburned tourists. He was a street musician playing off-key ragtime on a battered trumpet, a guy who couldn't put a Lego design together.

In two of the worst innings of his mostly spectacular season, Halladay was rocked for four runs on six hits, three of them doubles. He put the Phillies in a two-run hole in the first. Atypically, a lineup he could have sued for non-support on many occasions, hung a crooked number five in the third and he took a 6-3 lead into a seventh inning that ran his pitch count to 111. His afternoon ended with the Phils clinging to a 6-5 lead.

But in innings two through six against the Mets, there should have been a sign in front of the mound that read, "Genius at Work."

Halladay allowed three hits and fired eight of his 10 strikeouts while allowing a sixth-inning run.

So the great righthander's line was something of a contradiction of what we have come to expect in a game when he walks one and strikes out 10. Those numbers are what fans are accustomed to getting in a complete-game shutout by Doc. They suggest a surgical precision with four pitches that are at his beck and call.

But the rest of his line - the bottom line, as it were - suggests a veteran struggling with both location and command in those two innings, finding his release points and arm slot after the shaky first, then hitting the wall in the seventh inning of a game played, once again, with the temperature hovering near 90. It is never a good thing when a man as large as Halladay must execute his power delivery more than 100 times with the temperature exceeding the velocity of his fastball.

Once again, Charlie Manuel demonstrated his implicit faith in his ace - even when a game that appeared to be won suddenly was one more extra-base hit from the Mets regaining the lead.

With the score narrowed to 6-5 after RBI by Ruben Tejada and Chris Carter, Halladay walked Jose Reyes, who already had clubbed a pair of doubles. I expected to see Manuel pop out of the dugout to remove his scuffling ace. Instead, pitching coach Rich Dubee made the visit. Dubee must have said, "OK, big guy, get Angel Pagan to fly out, then strike out Carlos Beltran," because that is exactly what happened.

"He worked his way out of it. They could have scored more," the manager said after the Phillies finished the first week without Ryan Howard with nothing worse than the cold shower Johan Santana turned on the offense Saturday night at the expense of runless Cole Hamels. The 1-0 loss to Santana, who stranded nine runners, gave the Mets a staggering four shutouts of Manuel's offense this season, the first three in succession.

Why such trust when his ace obviously was beginning to labor?

"That's part of Roy and who he is," Charlie said. "You've got to trust him. I trust him."

On a day when the big stories were Halladay's 14th victory with 51 games left in the regular season - about nine more starts - and the continued resurgence of Born Again leftfielder Raul Ibanez, the subplots were crafted by Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge, who nailed down the hold and save, and a homer-double-single game by Jayson Werth. The temporary centerfielder was being derided as Jayson Werthless a few weeks ago. Well, he is now hitting .301 with 16 homers and 38 doubles. Is the guy having a great lousy season, or what?

And I'm anxious to hear from all you forum and comments geniuses who had the tar heated, the feathers freshly plucked and the rail all ready for Ibanez to ride out of town. Or checked into the nearest old folks home.

What say you now of a guy who has reached deep to find his lost bat speed and the balance it takes to bounce that majestic three-run bomb halfway up the ivy-covered centerfield wall? That's a space reserved for Howard and a very few others. The man with a work ethic second to none has hit in 16 straight and raised his average from the depths to .274. To those experts who giggled insanely when Manuel started using Raul in the No. 3 slot during Werth's protracted slump, he is batting .377 (29-for-77) with four homers and 18 RBI. Just saying . . .

The highlight for me came early.

Reyes led off the game with a tracer that skipped off the fence to the right of the out-of-town scoreboard. Dom Brown fielded the carom on the warning track, had trouble getting the ball out of his glove and took an extra step. Reyes hesitated an instant rounding first, then must have remembered the scouting report on Brown's arm. He exploded into high gear.

I have been a connoisseur of rightfield arms since I was a kid who never missed Dodgers infield practice (now a custom as extinct as the Dodo Bird) while growing up in Brooklyn. That would have meant missing the arm of the Reading Rifle, Carl Furillo. Since then, I measure all rightfield arms against the gun of Roberto Clemente.

The projectile Dom Brown launched from the track to nearly nail Reyes was Clemente-esque. I'm sure it had to make the whoosh of a low-flying jet as it one-hopped Jimmy Rollins. It was an amazing throw.

Roy Halladay didn't get to finish his latest symphony yesterday.

But at least the kid in right started it off with a high note.

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