Every time he has pitched this month, it has been the biggest game of his life, which meant he had never pitched in a more important game than Thursday against the Giants in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park. The Phillies would be eliminated in the best-of-seven series if they lost to San Francisco.
Halladay wanted the ball more than ever.
He proved it. In the second inning of the 4-2 victory over the Giants, which sent the series back to Philadelphia for Game 6 Saturday at Citizens Bank Park, Halladay felt a sharp pain in his right leg. He had pulled his groin on a pitch to Giants right fielder Cody Ross. He finished the inning and immediately spoke to pitching coach Rich Dubee and team athletic trainers in the dugout.
They talked, but they never talked about Halladay leaving the game.
"I felt like it was something I could get by with," Halladay said.
"He wasn't going to let us take him out," Phils manager Charlie Manuel said.
Halladay shortened his stride and rode a stationary bike in between innings to keep his groin loose. Catcher Carlos Ruiz said they threw fewer sinkers the rest of the way because they lacked their normal movement and velocity, which meant Halladay threw more cutters, changeups and curveballs.
"I was worried a little bit," Ruiz said. "But when I saw him come back to the mound [in the third inning], I had a great feeling."
But would those feelings last if the Phillies could not score runs against Giants ace Tim Lincecum? Halladay allowed a run in the first inning partially because he walked just the seventh leadoff hitter in an inning this season and partially because second baseman Chase Utley botched an inning-ending double play.
The Giants had a 1-0 lead with Lincecum in control through two innings. But the Phils caught some breaks in the third. Raul Ibanez hit a leadoff single and Lincecum hit Ruiz with a pitch to put runners on first and second with no outs.
This was the Phillies' chance.
3-2 advantage in NLCS
|Year||Team up 3-2||Opponent||Final|
Halladay bunted a ball that rolled over home plate. Halladay never ran to first as San Francisco catcher Buster Posey threw to third baseman Pablo Sandoval, except Sandoval missed the base with his leg. Sandoval threw to first to get Halladay, but the Phillies had runners on second and third with one out.
The Phils had to cash in here.
They did. Shane Victorino ripped a ground ball to the right side of the infield, which deflected off Aubrey Huff's glove into center field. Ibanez and Ruiz both scored on the play to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead. Polanco followed with a single to left-center field to score Victorino to make it 3-1.
"I always look for a fastball and I try to adjust to anything off," Polanco said. "And he threw me a fastball and I was able to hit it good."
The Giants kept pressing and Halladay kept fighting through his injury. San Francisco scored a run in the fourth to make it 3-2, but Halladay shut the NL West champs down the rest of the way.
Teammates said they were aware Halladay had injured himself, but he said he did not say a word about it.
He tried not to let on.
"After a couple innings, I was like, 'God, this guy is pitching on one leg. Really?'" Victorino said. "His velocity wasn't 92, 93 [mph]. It was 89, 90. That shows me what he's about. He wasn't coming out of the game, I can tell you that much."
"He's a man," Jayson Werth said.
The bullpen picked up Halladay. Jose Contreras and J.C. Romero pitched a scoreless seventh, Ryan Madson struck out the side in a perfect eighth and Brad Lidge looked sharp in a perfect ninth. Werth gave Lidge an insurance run when he hit an impressive opposite-field home run to right field in the ninth.
But Halladay shined when it mattered most under dire circumstances.
"He's a warrior," Jimmy Rollins said. "He's a big-game pitcher. When he gets the ball, he wants to go. If he can go, he's going to go."
If the Phillies should became just the seventh team in baseball history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the LCS and advance to the World Series, it sounds like Halladay could be ready to pitch Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday.
Maybe even an inning in Game 7 of the NLCS?
"When are you going to be available, next year?" Manuel joked with Halladay after the game.
"Five days," Halladay responded.
He probably wasn't joking.
But this is no joke: the Phils boarded their flight to Philadelphia on Thursday night confident about their chances in Game 6 on Saturday with Roy Oswalt on the mound.
"When your backs are against the wall, the only thing you can really do is coming out fighting," Rollins said. "Either you're going to live or you're going to pack it up. We were able to get another game out of this and go home. I think we're all looking forward to what it's going to be like."
Halladay certainly is. He did everything he could to make it happen.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.