Fighting a groin pull, Halladay guts out critical Game 5 win for Phillies

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"No, I didn't know it," Phillies left fielder Raul Ibanez said, and then he kind of thought about it. "Though, now that you mention it, you know, it did look like his velocity was down. It did look like his delivery was a little bit different."

Sometimes in baseball, you see greatness without even knowing that you're seeing greatness. Thursday night in San Francisco, with the Giants leading the series three games to one, with the Phillies facing elimination, with a raucous and desperate crowd shouting furiously and pumping orange pompons, with Willie Mays in the house, with Journey lead singer Steve Perry singing "Don't Stop Believin'" to his own voice, with MC Hammer doing "2 Legit 2 Quit" hand gestures, with all of it, Roy Halladay pitched one of the gutsiest games of his life. It happened to be a six-inning, six-hit, two-run, two-walk, five-strikeout game, which certainly doesn't seem like much, not in the same year when Halladay threw a perfect game and threw the second no-hitter in postseason history and dominated the National League.

But Thursday's greatness wasn't apparent until after the game was over, until after the Phillies had beaten San Francisco 4-2 to send this thing back to Philadelphia, until we were talking to Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel and he spilled it: "I've got to tell you -- somebody will say something about it anyway. Second inning, Halladay, he had a mild groin pull. His right groin. And he pitched like -- of course he stayed in there."

You could see the pure admiration on the face of Manuel. Halladay pitched six tough, troubled, lucky, unlucky and defiantly NOT overpowering innings. And he did it while hurting. It's true, he often did not look like Roy Halladay, certainly not like the Roy Halladay who should be the runaway winner of the National League Cy Young Award. His control was a touch off. He gave up some hard-hit balls. His fastball, which will usually be around 93 or 94, was instead around 89 or 90. That's like two time zones away.

"We could see his velocity was down," outfielder Jayson Werth also said. And there might have been a few whispers in the dugout about how Halladay was hurt. But mostly, they didn't know. They didn't want to know. When it comes to Halladay, the Phillies have learned not to ask too many questions. He has the pitching part under control.

And despite the pain -- he admitted to adjusting his form ("I tried to adjust things so it didn't bother me," he would say ) -- and despite the loss of feeling on some of his pitches, Halladay still only gave up two runs, and one of those might have been avoided had second baseman Chase Utley been able to complete a tag-em-out, throw-em-out double play in the first inning. Halladay never quite seemed in control, which is out of character for him. But he also was not about to let the Giants get back in after the Phillies took a 3-1 lead in the third inning. He was involved in getting that lead too in an odd way.

Halladay came up with runners on first and second and nobody out. He was asked to bunt, of course, and he bunted the ball straight down on the plate. On replay, it appeared the ball bounced and kind of spun back a little bit, just off the plate, where it looked foul. But the home plate umpire Jeff Nelson called it fair (or at least did not call it foul; Nelson's call wasn't entirely clear from afar). Giants catcher Buster Posey alertly picked up the ball and threw it to third where Pablo Sandoval reached back to touch the base.

Meanwhile, Halladay did not run. He thought the ball had gone foul -- and it probably had -- though in retrospect you wonder if he simply did not want to run with his groin already hurt. He supposedly hurt it in the second inning against the man who has become his nemesis, the Giants' Cody Ross. Halladay did not remember on which pitch he injured himself, but it certainly could have been on the 91-mph high cutter that Ross swung and missed for strike three. Halladay, desperate to get Ross (who had hit two home runs off him in Game 1) may have reached back for a little something extra.

Anyway, Sandoval did miss the bag when he reached back for it. He then reached back again, just about the time that Philadelphia's Raul Ibanez slid in. The umpire called Ibanez safe. Sandoval lofted the ball over to first to get out Halladay (who had only then left the batter's box) but the sacrifice had somehow worked.

And with runners on second and third, Shane Victorino ripped a two-hopper toward first. San Francisco's Aubrey Huff, for whatever reason, entirely overmatched by the grounder, watched it bounce off his forearm, and two runs scored. Placido Polanco followed with a single that scored Victorino and gave the Phillies a 3-1 lead they would never relinquish.

The non-relinquishing part was mostly Halladay. To be honest, he was not especially sharp even before the injury. He walked the first batter of the game, Andres Torres, and that's the first time this year that has happened. The Giants got two runners on base in the first (when they scored on Posey's should-have-been-a-double-play-grounder that Utley could not pick up), a runner in the third, hit back-to-back doubles in the fourth (for their second run), had a runner on in the fifth and two more in the sixth.

But Halladay kept finding ways to escape. In the fifth inning, for instance, he threw only one fastball, and that was to opposing pitcher Tim Lincecum (who also pitched a gutsy game). With runners and first and second, and facing the Giants' best hitter Huff, Halladay threw a high-80s cutter just inside, then one on the outside corner, then one on the inside corner, then he threw two change-ups, one down and in, and finally, the last one, three-inches outside but tempting enough to get Huff to hit a slow roller just in front of the mound. Catcher Carlos Ruiz picked it up, threw to first, got out of the inning.

"He's just such a warrior," Ibanez would say. "I know people use that word about a lot of guys, but it's like there's only one Roy Halladay. He just keeps coming at you and coming at you, pounding the strike zone again and again, and you know he's never going to give in, you know he's never going to make a mistake. You know he's going to do anything and everything he can to beat you."

Or as Manuel said when someone asked if he even considered taking Halladay out of the game: "Oh, he wasn't going to let us take him out."

Halladay's final pitch Thursday was perhaps the most telling of all. Again, he was in trouble -- there were runners on first and second, it was the sixth inning -- and he had a full count against Juan Uribe. The pitcher's spot was up next, but the Giants were threatening to pinch-hit, and the bases would have been loaded, and the feeling was that Halladay was going to have to throw a strike.

But what kind of strike? His fastball felt fat. His cutter wasn't cutting quite right. He felt pain on every pitch. On the 2-2 pitch he had tried a curveball in the dirt, hoping against hope that Uribe would chase it and end the inning. But Uribe held back. And now Halladay was stuck. He had to come in with some kind of cutter or fastball. Uribe knew it. Everybody knew it. It was his 108th pitch.

So, he went into the wind-up. And he pitched. And Uribe saw the cutter coming in, right in his zone. And he started to swing ... and then he saw the ball moving down, and he realized something, but he realized too late. Halladay had thrown the curveball in the dirt again. Uribe had swung and missed. Halladay was walking toward the dugout. The Phillies still had the lead.

And they kept the lead; the bullpen on this night was very good. Now the series has a very different feel. The Giants were looking awfully good up three games to one, playing at home, with their ace on the mound. Now the series shifts back to Philadelphia -- where the Phillies were 52-29. The Phillies have two terrific pitchers, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, scheduled to start.

The Giants though have two pretty good pitchers going -- Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain, and they still only have to win one of two games, and as San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy says, "This team hasn't done anything easy all year ... why start now?" But it is true that suddenly this series, which the Giants seemed to control going into Thursday's game, now looks very much like a toss-up.

And Halladay made his mark again in a different away. Baseball stories tend to get exaggerated over time, and it's certainly probable that in time people will remember Halladay limping around the mound, pitching off one leg, shouting in pain when he threw his curveball, falling down in agony. And no, it wasn't like that. Except for the slight drop in velocity and a couple of out-of-character moments, there were no hints that Halladay was hurting. "It was a tweak," Jimmy Rollins said with a bit of exasperation in his voice.

But you know, the real story is pretty good. Tweak or not, the best pitcher in baseball, with his team a loss away from failure, hurt himself in the second inning. It clearly affected him. But he refused to come out, he kept on pitching, he pitched six good innings while his teammates wondered what was wrong. He left with the Phillies ahead. The Phillies went on to win. The Phillies are still thinking about the World Series. That begins Wednesday.

"Right after the game, I was kidding with him," Manuel would say. "I said: When are you going to be available? Next year?"

"He said: 'Five days.'"