What did Roy Halladay knew on October 6, 2010?
I watched Roy Halladay’s playoff no-hitter at a bar near my house in Park City on October 6, 2010. My team, the Giants, were just starting their own playoff run against the Atlanta Braves on the other side of the league.
Due to a trio of young aces coming into their own, I had high hopes for the Giants that post-season, but the best pitcher in baseball in that moment was Roy Halladay. His Phillies seemed destined to appear in the LCS, so I give myself a pass to duck out and make the effort to watch his squad, one I knew nothing about. I reckoned it was purely in the name of research, plus the bar had free peanuts and an ongoing special on a loving-cup-sized serving of PBR.
That night, during his first postseason appearance, Halladay threw a no-hitter against the Reds. It was the best game I’ve ever seen from a pitcher. Those who followed his career or saw that game point out it was typical Halladay efficiency—a trait he was best known for when the surging Phillies brought him down to be their no. 1 that previous winter from Toronto, where he toiled in anonymity for a dozen seasons.
….But there was something else.
You can read a lot about how pitchers pitch and hitters react when pitchers are pitching well by better writers than me; what I do know about the game when played at such a high level—a Cy Young award winner, first time in the playoffs, with a no-hitter going—becomes a lesson in mental fortitude. The battle we are watching in the stadium, at the bar, from our couches, is one waged between the guy on the hill and his own demons.
Halladay, was precise, methodical, cold—but that’s not all. Watching his deconstruction of the Cincinnati Reds was like seeing a functioning drunk downing a fucking drink followed two pats on the bar top and a wry grin and wave goodbye to the bartender as he stiffly walks out. He was attack dog-level angry, that surged beneath his skin, but on the surface he was convivial, familiar about it. He’d somehow been there before. He knew the outcome already.
Because of this, it wasn’t a gratifying watch. It happened too fast. It was strange. Not all sport when played at the highest level is beautiful. This was punitive. It was as if Halladay was fulfilling some kind of obligation, maybe to his teammates, maybe to Phillies fans, maybe to us the general public, or even the history books. Ever happen upon someone doing something at a higher level than everyone else—so much that they can’t pause, they can’t stop… most of all, they can’t derive joy from it? He smiled at the right time and embraced his teammates in the wake of the final out, but his focus didn’t leave his face till well after he left the field.
He wanted to keep going. Go ahead fuckers, try to get a hit off me, I can go all night and the next day and the next day and the day after that.
He didn’t want it to end.
Halladay was out of baseball three seasons later at the age of 36 with a career record of 203-105 and a 3.38 ERA. He got injured, he’d thrown too many pitches. He wasn’t able to be Roy Halladay anymore. Take him out the back and put him down.
Halladay’s death is a tragedy, but it’s not my tragedy. His four kids have to figure out at too young an age how to carry on. His wife has to sort through his stuff and figure out what she’s going to do. His father and mother and siblings have to stare at an empty seat this holiday season.
I’m not surprised Halladay died at 40. He flew his plane into the ocean. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. Along the way, he found something people never find. He was almost perfect in the right moment and we all knew it, Most of all, he knew it.
That doesn’t last.