And all the while, for the man at the center of all this pandemonium, time seemed to be slowing down. The great -- yes, great -- right-hander waited his whole major league career, which began in 1998, for the chance to pitch in a postseason game. A lesser man would have been overeager. Harry Leroy Halladay III was his same old self. In total control.
In the worst of times, and Roy Halladay doesn't have many of those, the man is unhurried. In the best of times -- like when he pitched his perfect game on the road against the Florida Marlins on May 29 -- there's something almost laconic about him. You've seen that in other confident, capable people, haven't you? Even though he works quickly on the mound, it's so efficient. In interviews, even right after a game, every word is measured. He signs autographs in neat, careful penmanship. Wednesday night, when he shook off his catcher, Carlos Ruiz, which he seldom did, the shakes left and right were slow and short, slow and short.
The walk to the dugout between innings became slower and slower and slower. Slow in the sixth. Slower yet in the seventh. Even slower in the eighth. He made eye contact with nobody. He just stared into that place where batters go to die.
The Cincinnati Reds couldn't hit him last night. Nothing. No runs, no hits, no anythings. A no-hitter, a super-clean, thrill-ride no-hitter. Twenty-eight up, 27 down. In the first game of the National League division series, the Phillies won, 4-0. The only thing that prevented it from being a perfect game was a two-out, six-pitch walk in the fifth issued to right fielder Jay Bruce. The next guy, center fielder Drew Stubbs, grounded out into a fielder's choice. Poor guy never had a chance. The Reds, in all likelihood, don't either.
Dusty Baker, the Reds manager, looked like a man who knew his club was outclassed when he gave an in-game TBS interview. "We may have to start attacking him early in the count, because right now it's not working against him," he said. But how do you attack early in the count when you have absolutely no idea what Halladay is going to do with his Rawlings on a slightly damp night when his grip on the ball was not slippery, but sticky? He went upstairs and downstairs, inside and outside, 75-mile-an-hour curves balls, fastballs in the mid-90s. The complete, total textbook package. Who says they don't make 'em like Bob Gibson anymore?
The heart-attack moment for the 46,000 in the house, who are getting accustomed to spectacular baseball but not remotely blasé about it, was the very last batter of the night, Brandon Phillips. The leadoff hitter, but you already knew that. Nine times three is 27 and here was the 28th man of the night. Called strike, swinging strike. Two-strike count. The crowd so loud you couldn't hear your thoughts. You didn't have any thoughts. All you had was the anticipation that you might see a piece of sporting greatness.
The third pitch of the at-bat. Unhittable curveball. But Phillips, with exemplary bat control, was able to nick it. It bounced once in front of the plate, on the soft, damp grass. Ruiz didn't seem to know exactly where it was. It bounced again and then again. The speedy infielder started flying down the first-base line. He tossed his bat into fair territory and the ball rolled right up against it. The crowd stopped. Stopped screaming. Stopped breathing. Time stopped. Ruiz did not.
Ruiz fell to his knees and slid into the ball. He made a throw from his pads to Ryan Howard covering at first base. The throw was a little high and a little off line. Howard stretched. The play was close. The call, the right one (this time) was made by first-base umpire Bruce Dreckman. The game was over. The screaming resumed. The party began.
The TBS microphone went in front of Halladay's mouth. The man had just made history. He said, "You try to chip in, be part of it." TRY TO CHIP IN? BE PART OF IT? Yes, try to chip in, be part of it. He doesn't use all caps, exclamation marks, hype. He uses a half-dozen pitches, this time on eight days' rest.
Charlie Manuel, the Phillies manager, relieved and happy, came in and talked to reporters and took all the credit. "Great managing," he said. Very amusing. The man didn't have to do a thing all night. Halladay did it all, including a second-inning RBI on a single to left that scored his catcher and gave the Phils a 2-0 lead. Later, he scored the Phils' fourth and final run.
He talked to the writers wearing a Phillies hoodie, his great right hand on his lap where nobody could see it. What was your game plan, brother?
"Try and win," the man said.