This is Roy Halladay's biggest playoff moment. One way or another. That sounds crazy to say about only the second guy to throw a postseason no-hitter, but those known to compete at this time of the year and certainly those who chronicle it will always tell you the same thing: We remember the final chapter far more than what leads up to it.
How else to explain the lasting murmur among some in this town that the team's true ace wears the number just below Halladay's, that the guy you really want on the hill for a winner-take-all throws lefthanded and speaks in a drawl. Yeah, Cliff Lee's armor was dented by Sunday's Game 2 and last year's World Series, but to many he is still that guy from 2009, the guy who almost singlehandedly pitched the Phillies to their second straight World Series title. The guy who beat the Yankees twice.
Someone asked Charlie Manuel yesterday at what point he decided it would be Halladay pitching tonight and Lee in relief. He said, "I think the fact that the way we had them lined up and also the fact that since Roy has been here he's always kind of been ahead. He was the guy who was in the No. 1 post and we felt like, that, who he is and everything, that he deserves the start."
And he does. If Halladay doesn't win his second straight Cy Young this year, it might be because Lee splits the vote. Halladay was 19-6 this season with a 2.35 earned run average. Lee was 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA. Both men were among the leaders in strikeouts, innings pitched, opponents' admiration. Both men have proved they can handle the October heat.
But make no mistake about this: Doc needs to be more than Doc tonight. The way his team is hitting, he might need to be the Doc of his first-ever postseason start last year, when 27 times the hitless Cincinnati Reds slogged or scampered back to their dugout like, well, squirrels.
He set a tone in that series, and the Reds were never right after it. Tonight, he must stop an avalanche of momentum, karma even.
Doc has an extra day of rest. That could be a good thing, could be a bad thing. A creature of routine, his first inning all season has been his worst. Leadoff batters have a gaudy average against him. One run in this game might just do it.
So, yeah, even the most recent Doc version from last Saturday, the one who shrugged off a three-run bomb in the first to retire 21 straight batters, might not be enough. That's not Kyle Lohse warming up for the other team. That's his best buddy, Chris Carpenter, this time on normal rest.
So, yeah, unless Ryan Howard is going to be good Ryan Howard, Doc Halladay better be great Doc Halladay tonight.
There was the usual talk in the Phillies' clubhouse yesterday about not trying to do too much. There was also a healthy dose of "rising to the occasion" sprinkled in. Never quite sure how the two co-exist inside of sports - even after Brad Lidge's stab at explaining it to me - but they no doubt do.
So here's what I think about tonight. Doc needs to be Doc from the second inning on. He needs to rise to the occasion in that troublesome first. Do both, and the Phillies - especially with a rested Lee pacing in the 'pen - might just survive their latest playoff bout with baseball's hottest team and advance.
"I'm going to try and stick with my plan and try and make good pitches the whole game," Halladay said yesterday. "But you know you can't - I think you have to avoid trying to be too perfect, especially early on."
Whatever it takes, big boy. Your season, our season, it's all riding on it.
Not to mention that great ace debate. Whether you lean left or lean right - tonight Roy Halladay can make the vote unanimous.
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