Thursday, September 10, 2009
You Just Never Know!
In the first inning of last Friday’s game against the New York Yankees, Kevin Millar made a spectacular play at first base to stab a shot off the bat of Eric Hinske. He was going to run to the bag to get the out, but realized he might not make it in time. He looked up and saw his pitcher loping over to cover the bag. He flipped the ball to record the out.
These kinds of plays occur in every baseball game, with little or no significance; however, the importance of the play was not lost on Millar. As a veteran player approaching his thirty-eighth birthday, he has seen his share of ground balls. After the game, I asked him about the play. He remembered it vividly. “You never know when a play like that might hold up,” he told me.
That play did “hold up” until the sixth inning when a rookie shortstop scorched a double to right field. Ramiro Pena spoiled “Doc” Halladay’s bid for a “no hitter” with one out. The hit unnerved Halladay slightly, because he walked two more batters before facing Alex Rodriguez with two out.
When asked about that situation after the game, Jays’ manager Cito Gaston stated: “Sure I realized he was facing a future Hall of Famer in Rodriguez. Who would you rather have out there on the mound? Great players make great adjustments.” Halladay fanned Rodriguez, and went on to shut out the Yankees without allowing another base runner. Final score: Jays 6 Yankees 0.
Halladay has yet to register a no-hitter in the major leagues. On one other occasion he pitched a one-hitter, against the Detroit Tigers in his second major league start in 1998. Bobby Higginson homered off Halladay in the ninth inning to ruin that attempt.
In his post game interview, Hallady reflected on the accomplishment, and on the characteristics of a somewhat disappointing season. “It hasn’t been great for me. Sometimes there are some things that are out of your control.”
The Jays have not always given “Doc” enough runs for him to cruise through many wins. In this game, they struck for two runs in the first inning on a couple of doubles by Aaron Hill and Adam Lind (who else?). That was the cushion that Halladay needed to record his fourteenth win of the season. At one point in the season, he was in contention for another Cy Young Award, but that vision dissipated in his last few starts.
Halladay listed several reasons why he excelled that evening: “My changeup and my curve ball worked a lot better for me. Location-wise, I felt pretty good. I felt like I could make a pitch if I had to. I was just trying to be aggressive. Sometimes I have a tendency to be too careful, but not tonight. It is always gratifying to have a game like this. It validates what you are trying to accomplish.”
He quietly responded to questions about the past season. “It’s never easy when you have to deal with all of the trade talks. There are parts in every season when there are highs and lows. Things don’t always go your way when you are on the mound. You just have to do the best you can. You need to have a game plan that you can execute. You have to accept the situation you are in and make the best of it.”
The camera lights went off, the scribes folded their notepads, stuffed their recorders in their pockets and headed for their laptops. Just another night in a long and difficult season for the Jays. A remarkable night, nonetheless, for a remarkable baseball player.
The Yankees split the weekend series with the Jays. They left Toronto Sunday night following a 14-8 battering at the hands of the Jays, and now await the results of the other divisions in the American League as they cruise to another title. The Jays, meanwhile, are making plans for 2010. Jays’ fans pray that those plans include “Doc” Halladay.