The no-hitter the Phillies' Roy Halladay threw in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday wasn't just his second of 2010, it was the sixth no-hitter in Major League Baseball this season, a season in which pitching dominated in a way it hasn't in nearly two decades.
"It's surreal. It really is," Halladay said on the field after the 4-0 win over the Reds. "I just wanted to pitch here, pitch in the postseason. To be able to go out and have a game like that is a dream come true."
Halladay, 33, is the prototypical pitcher thought to be left in yesteryear. He threw a Major League-high nine complete games, logged an MLB-best 250 2/3 innings and finished third in the Majors with a 2.44 ERA. On May 29, he threw a perfect game against the Marlins in Florida, a 1-0 win.
But Halladay wasn't alone in 2010. Pitching made a definitive comeback in the regular season, and if Wednesday was any sign, it'll be the driving force in this year's postseason, too.
The cumulative ERA in the Majors this season was 4.08, a 24-point drop from 2009 and the lowest mark since 1992, when the league ERA was 3.75. There haven't been this many no-hitters in a season since 1991, when a record seven were thrown (there were seven in 1990, as well). Six no-hitters have been thrown in a season just four times: 1908, 1915, 1917 and 1969.
Next to Halladay -- and veterans like Halladay's staff-mate Roy Oswalt and Atlanta's Tim Hudson -- young arms led the way in 2010. Seattle's Felix Hernandez, 24, led the Majors with a 2.24 ERA. Florida's Josh Johnson, 26, was second (2.30 ERA), Boston's Clay Buchholz, 26, was third (2.33), St. Louis' Adam Wainwright, 29, was fourth (2.42 ERA), and Colorado's 26-year-old ace Ubaldo Jimenez burnished his 2.88 ERA with the first no-hitter of this season, on April 17 against the Braves.
Oakland's Dallas Braden threw a perfect game on May 9. Edwin Jackson fired a no-hitter for Arizona on June 25. Matt Garza added a no-no for the Rays on July 26. And the Tigers' Armando Galarraga was one out from perfection on June 2, when umpire Jim Joyce missed a call at first base on the final out.
Even when pitchers did give up a hit, low-scoring games were prevalent. There were more 1-0 games this season than there had been in the last decade.
"This year, I think, the low-scoring games have been very obvious," Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said earlier this season. "A sign is what has happened with the perfect games and the no-hit games. I don't think that is a coincidence. I think the pitching is getting better."
To understand why pitching's been so good, look no further than the strikeout. Halladay struck out eight on Wednesday after fanning 219 in the regular season, fifth-most in baseball. Across the Majors, the average was 7.1 per nine innings -- the highest ever.
A drop in home runs, too, helped. Pitchers allowed fewer than one homer per game for the first time since 1993.
"I think the two most important components of a baseball team are starting pitchers that strike out a lot of guys and a couple of hitters that take the ball out of the ballpark," said Kansas City's Brian Bannister. "Because when you get into a playoff-type atmosphere, that's usually the determining factor in the game: Does one side hit a home run, and is one side able to take the ball out of play by striking people out? "I think those are the two most important things to see. I think that's why you see a lot more of those games in the playoffs, where there's a lot more pressure."
That Halladay threw a no-hitter in the playoffs is precisely what separates past seasons of great pitching and this one. There had been a no-hitter in the postseason just once before, when Don Larsen threw a perfect game for the Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.
"The best part about it is the playoffs take priority," Halladay said, "and that's pretty neat for me to be able to go out and win a game like that and know there's more to come for us and more to accomplish."
Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.