Inside the Phillies: Bunning has high praise for Phillies' Halladay

Righty meets Lefty as former Phillies greats Jim Bunning and Steve Carlton fist-bump at Friday's pregame ceremonies.
Righty meets Lefty as former Phillies greats Jim Bunning and Steve Carlton fist-bump at Friday's pregame ceremonies. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 14, 2011

Imagine watching the 2011 Phillies starting rotation through the eyes of a Hall of Fame pitcher.

Imagine being the only other man in franchise history to pitch a perfect game and studying the game of the guy who duplicated your remarkable feat.

Jim Bunning does not have to imagine.

Best known in Philadelphia for pitching a perfect game against the New York Mets on Father's Day in 1964, Bunning admits to being quite fond of the group of starting pitchers who make up the 2011 Phillies rotation.

"I see them often," he said, leaving the impression that he rarely misses a game.

And what does he see?

"This staff is the best I've seen assembled by an everyday team," he said. "You see this kind of staff at the All-Star Game. I've been on the staff at nine All-Star Games where you have difficulty selecting who to pitch. That's what they have here."

The starters' 2.99 earned run average heading into Saturday's game with the Washington Nationals is an amazing number, especially when you consider that the league average is 4.00. The Phillies have a chance to become the first team since the 1992 Atlanta Braves to have a starting rotation ERA below 3.00.

When asked which member of the Phillies rotation he admires most, Bunning answered before the question was completed.

"Halladay," the 79-year-old former Kentucky senator said. "We have a very similar career path."

And indeed they do.

Bunning pitched nine years in the American League with Detroit before joining the Phillies in 1964. He went 118-87 with a 3.45 ERA with the Tigers. Halladay spent 12 seasons in the American League with Toronto before joining the Phillies a season ago. His AL record was 148-76 with a 3.43 ERA.

Bunning pitched a perfect game in his first season in Philadelphia. Halladay, of course, did the same.

"I didn't win 20 games my first year, but I should have," he said. "I had ample opportunity."

Bunning went 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA his first season in Philadelphia. Halladay was 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA.

As proud as Bunning is of his baseball career, he yields the floor to Halladay when asked to compare the Phillies' current ace to other greats of the game.

"He is the most consistent with good stuff and never down the middle of the plate," Bunning said.

What followed was the clue that Bunning is hanging on every Phillies pitch during this most magical season.

"The last two starts - and [Cliff] Lee did it earlier in the year - [Halladay] was up and in the middle of the plate," Bunning said. "They don't pitch there. And Halladay for sure doesn't because his ball goes this way and that way, and it's always on the knees. If he comes up, it's deliberate, and that's the way it should be.

"I was taught at a very young age by some very good coaches that you pitch in and out, and the up and down will take care of itself because you're going to make mistakes. Halladay does that better than anybody I've ever seen."

Anybody?

"Anybody, and I saw the Big Four over in Cleveland," Bunning said.

The Indians' Big Four during the 1950s were Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Mike Garcia.

"Lemon had the best stuff I ever hit against, and he didn't do it any better than Roy," Bunning said. "I think Halladay is more consistent."

What higher praise could a pitcher receive?

Bunning, however, does not admire only Halladay.

"Lee has better stuff than 90 percent of the people realize," he said. "His ball is alive. And Cole Hamels is having a great season. I've seen him grow this year [more] than at any other point because he has just become so consistent, where he wasn't before."

Bunning believes that consistency has come from competition.

"I see the whole staff being lifted by the competition between the pitchers," he said. "That's part of the deal. You want to be as good as the other guy."

And what about the Vanimal, Vance Worley?

"He shocked me the first time I saw him," Bunning said. "I didn't know they had a pitcher like that down in triple A, and all of a sudden he's the most consistent pitcher on the staff. For his first eight starts, he pitched better than anybody."

And that's how the 2011 Phillies rotation looks through the eyes of a Hall of Fame pitcher.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com

or @brookob on Twitter.

 

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