If there is a common thread running through these three very different men, it is their fierce determination to return to greatness after getting a taste of mediocrity, or worse.
Halladay was a first-round draft choice and golden boy who fell apart at the age of 23. His team, the Toronto Blue Jays, sent him all the way back to the low minors to relearn how to pitch. And Halladay did just that. His legendary work ethic and remarkable drive turned him into the most consistently dominant pitcher of the last decade.
"This guy's for real," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He wants to be the best pitcher in baseball, but he also wants to be on the best team."
Halladay won 148 games and a Cy Young Award during his years in Toronto but never reached the postseason. Last year, at the age of 32, Halladay looked around and realized he was running out of chances to compete on baseball's biggest stage.
"That was my biggest concern," he said. "I have a short window that I need to try and win, and it's an opportunity that I can't pass up. Then you come to a place like this and it makes it all worth it."
Halladay made it all worth it for the Phillies: 21-10 record, a perfect game in May, 219 strikeouts, 2.44 ERA. Halladay was on the mound when the Phillies clinched a playoff berth, and he'll be on the mound Wednesday for Game 1 of the NL division series.
He is the ace, but he is not alone.
"I've loved being part of this staff," Halladay said. "To go out there and watch guys dominate the way they have, it's been a lot of fun for me. That is something I haven't gotten to do a whole lot - I do it from the other dugout, not the same dugout."
If Halladay was determined to get to the postseason before it was too late, Oswalt's motivation was to get back. He went two years in a row with the Houston Astros, losing in the NL Championship Series in 2004 and losing the World Series in 2005. The Astros never got back, which is why Oswalt made it known he'd like to be traded to a contender this past summer.
If Halladay's signature moment was the perfect game, Oswalt's was a bit different. He won an immediate place in the hearts of fans by making an emergency appearance in left field on Aug. 24. Oswalt caught a fly ball and made the final out of an extra-inning game, but it was his aw-shucks willingness to do whatever was asked that proved he fit right in with this team.
"To his credit, he's done a phenomenal job on the field [and] in the clubhouse," Halladay said. "It can be tough coming over midseason and not rocking the boat. He did a great job of coming over, finding his spot in the clubhouse, finding his spot on the team, and becoming part of that."
If the Roys were the glittery preseason and midseason acquisitions, Hamels was the enigmatic star of 2008 who lost much of his shine. For him, the journey wasn't from hopeless team to contending team, it was within himself. His biggest obstacle was his own immaturity; when things went bad, so did Hamels.
This year, Hamels has been a model of consistent excellence.
"Cole, to me, has been since day one the most impressive for me to watch," Halladay said. "I've seen a lot more than I expected, and I expected a lot."
That could be said about all three men as the postseason opens. For overachiever Halladay, it is the opportunity he has waited a career for. For smalltown-guy Oswalt, it is a chance to win the ring that barely eluded him. For Hollywood Hamels, it is proof that 2009, not 2008, was the fluke.
For the Phillies and their fans, Halladay and Oswalt and Hamels are the three best reasons to plan for another parade.
Contact columnist Phil Sheridan
at 215-854-2844 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.