The Phillies clinched their fourth consecutive National League East title Monday with an 8-0 victory over the Nationals at Nationals Park. They also clinched the league's best record because they won their 94th game and won tiebreakers against the Padres and Giants. That means the Phillies will have the opportunity to play an eight-day NL Division Series beginning Oct. 6. That could be a huge advantage for the Phillies, who would have the opportunity to pitch Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt -- the Big Three -- on normal rest throughout the series.
"We're just starting," Halladay said. "I'm looking forward to moving forward. It should be a lot of fun."
It truly seemed fitting to have Halladay on the mound for the final out Monday.
He waived his no-trade clause and signed a three-year, $60 million contract extension -- he would have received much more had he waited to become a free agent following this season -- to join the Phillies in a December trade with the Blue Jays.
He had won a Cy Young Award. He had started an All-Star Game. He had been considered one of the best pitchers in baseball for years.
But he never tasted a pennant race.
He never pitched in October.
He will now.
Halladay allowed just two hits and struck out six in a masterful shutout performance to improve to 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA in what might have been the biggest game of his career. He retired the first six batters he faced until Wilson Ramos hit a leadoff single to right field in the third. Halladay retired the next 14 batters he faced until Adam Dunn hit a leadoff single to center in the eighth.
Right fielder Jayson Werth crushed a solo home run to left field in the second inning to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead, and the way Halladay was pitching, it proved to be plenty.
The Phils added three more runs in the sixth inning anyway. Werth hit a two-out double to right-center field to score Placido Polanco and Chase Utley to make it 3-0. Raul Ibanez singled to move Werth to third, and Carlos Ruiz doubled to score Werth to make it 4-0.
No way was Halladay losing that lead.
Halladay was 4-0 with a 4.55 ERA in his previous four starts, but got an extra day of rest before Monday's start.
It looked like he got his second wind.
The Nationals had no chance. Halladay had the opportunity to single-handedly clinch the team's NL East crown and nothing was going to stop him.
Halladay swore he never thought about it.
"I think you obviously know, but you don't put a different emphasis on the game," he said. "You go out and try to pitch your game."
Halladay, Mike Sweeney and Brian Schneider -- three Phillies who had never been to the postseason -- opened the first bottles of champagne. Yes, Halladay, religious about his routine, celebrated with his teammates, skipping his normal postgame workout.
"I'll get to it," he said.
But not then. He enjoyed the moment.
Did it feel like he thought it would feel?
"Colder," he said, as a teammate poured a beer down his back.