Roy Halladay struggles as Phillies lose to Braves

Posted: September 22, 2012

Roy Halladay did not watch his 89 m.p.h. fastball fly Saturday when everything crumbled. An 8-2 Phillies loss to Atlanta was five batters old at crestfallen Citizens Bank Park. The silence was interrupted when that fastball, now a three-run Braves homer, smacked a large advertisement in right field.

Bang.

Only then did Halladay turn his head. It was difficult not to stare. Halladay threw 51 pitches, recorded five outs, and was charged with seven runs.

Those images were later replaced by a somber Halladay verbalizing failure inside the Phillies clubhouse. He revealed a doctor's examination Friday that showed what he called "spasms" behind his shoulder. Halladay, 35 and long considered one of baseball's best, has never had to overcome his own body so frequently.

"I thought I'd be able to compete better than that," he said.

The Phillies trail St. Louis by four games for the second wild card. There are 10 games left. Three teams stand between the Phillies and postseason play. The heartbeat is faint until mathematically impossible, and that day is nearing.

Needing victory Saturday, Halladay was no panacea like years past. He insists he can finish 2012. Manager Charlie Manuel was not as committal, but the Phillies have regularly deferred to their ace's judgment.

"He didn't have a whole lot," Manuel said.

It's possible Halladay's final act in this cursed season was surrendering the ball to Manuel and a smattering of boos in the second inning.

There was no one to blame Saturday but Halladay. The only shorter outing in 376 career starts Halladay was Sept. 10, 2006. A line drive struck him that day. There was no such clarity Saturday.

Halladay spent seven weeks on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his shoulder. The pitcher claimed there was no structural damage after exhaustive tests and a second opinion. He did admit to tightness dating back to spring training, when his velocity dipped and he refused to acknowledge injury.

In recent weeks, Phillies officials have stressed caution. Halladay, they said, was not pitching with his full arsenal. He posted a 3.98 ERA in 11 starts before rest was instructed. That number has ballooned to 4.87 in 13 post-DL outings. The spasms, Halladay said, did not bother him until "a couple of days ago."

He was emotional when discussing a season gone haywire.

"When you have stuff like that in the middle of the year and you're trying to overcome it while you're out there pitching, it's tough," Halladay said. "It makes it hard. There's definitely times where I've felt good. But it's been a grind."

Halladay said the doctors are not overly concerned with his latest malady. The pitcher hinted at his worry, the toll of time and 39,341 career pitches.

"It's probably poor timing more than anything," Halladay said. "I don't think it's a major concern. My only concern is that I keep having things like this. I've got to come up with some programs - whether it's less throwing or different arm things or whatever it may be - where I can avoid these types of things. When you're young, you never have them. I need to find a way to adjust to that."

Minutes before first pitch, this day looked promising. Milwaukee was thrashed by Washington. St. Louis trailed Chicago in the ninth inning until Carlos Beltran blasted a game-tying homer while the Phillies stretched. The Cardinals captured the lead in the 10th and won at 4:47 p.m. By then, it was meaningless because Halladay scuttled.

His day lasted 37 excruciating minutes. After throwing the ill-fated fastball to Freeman, Halladay avoided the pitch in tight situations. The first two pitches he threw in the second inning were strikes to Brian McCann. He later walked when a full-count change-up badly missed.

Halladay notched two outs and jumped ahead 0-2 to Michael Bourn. He slapped a curveball for a single. Martin Prado walked on a full-count curveball. Jason Heyward lashed a two-strike curveball for a bases-clearing double.

The heavy reliance on off-speed pitches signaled trouble. That the Phillies activated the bullpen as Halladay labored in the second indicated a short leash. Once Heyward made it 6-0, Manuel had seen enough.

Halladay's 4.40 ERA is the second-worst mark of his distinguished 15-year career. In 2000, a 10.64 ERA earned him a ticket to single A, where he rebuilt himself into one of the game's best.

There will be no such demotion for a 35-year-old pitcher owed $20 million in 2013. Saturday's disaster may have sealed this season's fate. Even worse, it bred more questions about a pitcher's future.


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @magelb.

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