Until the ninth, it had been so easy. The end was not.
The Nationals managed to snap a 30-inning scoreless streak Halladay had mounted against them by scoring twice in the ninth. But with the tying run on second base, pinch-hitter Matt Stairs looked at three straight strikes and Ivan Rodriguez was rung up on three pitches to end it.
That was Halladay's ninth strikeout of the night. It was his 123d pitch of the game, making it the second-most he's thrown as a Phillie. But there was no chance Halladay was coming out, even with closer Jose Contreras warming up, unless the game was tied or the Nationals won it walking off.
Halladay had allowed just two hits in eight innings, both to Washington first baseman Adam LaRoche, who had talked his way into the lineup while battling a groin strain. In the ninth, Rick Ankiel led off with a double and Jayson Werth followed with a single. When Werth scored the second run of the inning on Danny Espinosa's single, he clapped his hands as he crossed home plate. But that was the final run.
The two runs did represent more than Halladay had allowed in his previous 21 innings combined this season. His ERA is 1.23. And you were wondering how he could top a perfect game, no-hitter and Cy Young in Season One.
OK, he has yet to achieve anything close to those feats in 2011, but Halladay is every bit as dominant on the mound so far. He did everything else, too. He scored a run in fifth. He even caught a pop-up in foul territory.
Not that this is something new. Remember, Halladay's ERA did not climb above 2.00 until May 23 last season.
Yet so many seminal moments have occurred here at Nationals Park. It was here when Halladay made his Phillies debut with a dazzling seven-inning performance on opening day. He clinched a fourth straight National League East crown with a spectacular shutout of Washington on 97 pitches.
Halladay allowed a run to the Nationals in the first inning of opening day 2010 when Ryan Zimmerman doubled home Nyjer Morgan. That was before all of the memories and dug-up pitching rubbers awarded to Halladay for his brilliance. Since then, Washington had nothing on Halladay until the ninth Wednesday.
The Phillies' offense didn't exactly rough up John Lannan, a pitcher the Phils have handled with ease before. One run scored with the help of two Ian Desmond errors in the fourth, including an interference call on the bases. Another scored on a Ryan Howard bases-loaded hit-by-pitch. Placido Polanco scored the other with a two-out single up the middle.
Halladay finished the eighth with 101 pitches and the Phillies fans who had overrun Nationals Park gave him a standing ovation as he walked off the mound. He flipped the ball on top of the visitors' dugout for a fan to have.
It was silly to think he was done. He batted in the ninth and received another standing ovation from the fans.
It took 22 pitches for Halladay to finish it off, but when he did, it meant nothing less than a shutout would have.
Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/magelb.