Then again, maybe none of that is possible. Because when you listened to Halladay talk after his four-inning outing Tuesday against the Nationals, you heard the unmistakable sound of defiance, and for the first 3 years of his Phillies career, Halladay did not have anything to defy. In 2011, he was coming off a season in which he pitched a perfect game and a no-hitter and won a Cy Young while leading his team to the NLCS. In 2012, he was coming off a near-repeat of his 2010, and the Phillies were coming off a season in which they led the majors in wins.
So, no, Halladay is not the same athlete who spent three seasons teaching everybody in Philadelphia the meaning of the word "professional." Because for the first time since he was in his early 20s, Halladay has something to defy.
Age. Doubts. Physiology.
Also: the odds.
The odds say that the Phillies are the third-fiddle in the NL East, that the Nationals are one of the leading contenders for the World Series, that the old guard is on its way out and the new guard is here to say. For the first time since the Phillies acquired Halladay from Toronto in December 2009, the future Hall of Famer is attempting to defy the odds. So after Strasburg hit Chase Utley in the shin with a fastball in the third inning, Halladay figured it was time to let the Nationals know that they will not be allowed to play bully in 2013. With two outs in the top of the fourth and a 26-year-old righty named Tyler Moore at the plate, he unleashed a fastball that sailed behind the batter's box and crashed into the backstop.
"Yeah," Halladay said later, "it slipped." He didn't wink, nor did he need to.
"I think we do need to protect our guys to an extent," Halladay said. "I'm not saying that's what happened, it slipped, but I think that's important. We've had a lot of guys hit over the years and I think as a staff we need to do a good job of protecting those guys."
And just in case you were still unclear about the purpose of the pitch . . .
"In spring training, I don't think you are necessarily trying to do it," Halladay said, "but it wouldn't have been the worst thing had it got him after hitting one of our good guys."
In the opposing clubhouse, Strasburg told reporters that he did not mean to hit Utley. The cool, blustery weather affected all of the pitchers' grips. Asked about Halladay's pitch, he deferred.
"It's spring training," Strasburg said. "If you're going to throw at someone or send a message in spring training, go ahead."
Perhaps the message was intended for more than one recipient. With two outs in the fifth, Domonic Brown dropped a base hit into centerfield. When he saw Ryan Howard rounding second, Brown zeroed in on the extra base, sliding in ahead of the tag for a double. Brown then scored from second on a bloop single by Laynce Nix.
"That's the way we want to play," Manuel said.
They will have to wait nearly a month to play that way on a stage that matters, and it will be more than 2 months before they get their first crack at the Nationals. But Halladay did not seem interested in waiting to set the tone. When asked if Washington's success surprised him last year, he did not tiptoe around his answer.
"Yeah, I was," he said. "They had a lot of young players . . . [Adam] LaRoche had a year that I don't think anybody expected, and they pretty much managed to do it all year long. So yeah, I was surprised by it. I knew they had good players, but to do what they did, and to do it consistently, they were good all year. I don't anticipate them getting worse, so we need to get better."
Intentionally or not, Halladay delivered two messages with one pitch. One was to the Nationals. The other was to his teammates. This year, he said, the Phillies won't be pushed around.