PHILADELPHIA -- Never mind that Roy Halladay cemented his status as one of baseball's biggest big-game pitchers by tossing an historic no-hitter in Game 1 of last year's National League Division Series. That didn't stop Phillies manager Charlie Manuel from being asked what sets his ace apart.
Is it the electric stuff that has put Halladay in the running for his second consecutive Cy Young Award, or is it his unflappable demeanor on the mound?
"The quickest way to answer your question...," Manuel said. "He has all those."
And that's why the Phillies, with Halladay taking the mound and center stage at Citizens Bank Park for Saturday's Game 1, roar into the NLDS against the Cardinals with a calm confidence. He's the guy they want on the mound in this situation. And on this stage.
Loves to face.: Chase Utley, 4-for-24. Hates to face: Ryan Howard, 8-for-16.
Loves to face: Albert Pujols, 2-for-11. Hates to face: Lance Berkman, 2-for-5.
Why he'll win: 2-0, 1.37 ERA in last four starts
Why he'll win: Pitched no-hitter in only other NLDS start
Pitcher beware: First postseason start since Oct. 4, 2003
Pitcher beware: Cards tagged him for four runs Sept. 19
Bottom line: Redemption year
Bottom line: Ace of aces
This is Halladay's moment.
"You really have to put things into perspective and understand what this game ultimately means," said Halladay. "And you play it because you love it, and you play it because you enjoy the competition. And I think that's what, at this point, is most important."
Halladay, who no-hit the Reds in Game 1 of the NLDS last year, is coming off another tremendous regular season. He went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA, ranking first in the NL in complete games (eight) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.29), was second in ERA and innings (223 2/3), third in wins and strikeouts (220), and fourth in WHIP (1.04).
He threw six scoreless innings in his final regular-season start on Sunday against the Mets at Citi Field. He could have pitched longer -- he threw just 77 pitches -- but the Phillies pulled him to ensure he is as fresh as possible Saturday, where he'll be greeted by another frenzied, towel-waving crowd.
"We're looking forward to it," Halladay said. "Obviously, the ultimate goal is to give ourselves a chance to win a World Series, but we've done a lot of great things this year, and we have a great team. I think I learned last year, being in [the playoffs] is the best part of it. Being able to play these games is what makes it all worthwhile. To get to this point, I'm excited, and we obviously want to go all the way to the end."
As magical as it was, Halladay's no-hitter -- the first no-hitter in the postseason since Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series - didn't ultimately help the Phillies reach their goal of winning the World Series. They swept the Reds, but wound up losing in six games to the Giants in the NL Championship Series.
With that in mind, Halladay says the Phillies have plenty to prove despite winning 102 games in the regular season.
"I think, to a man, in that clubhouse, there's not a guy who would tell you that he would not be disappointed if we didn't win it all," he said. "I think the fact that we've had that mentality all year, that that's been the goal all year, I certainly haven't felt the added pressure."
The confidence comes from a rotation that's considered baseball's best, and a lineup that was bolstered in July with the addition of Hunter Pence from the Astros. Halladay's Game 1 assignment is against a Cardinals team that mounted a furious really to reach the playoffs and a lineup that led the NL in batting average and runs scored.
"I heard a quote a long time ago," Halladay said. "'I came here to bury Caesar, not praise him.' I think it's true. We're all well aware of how good [St. Louis] is. We obviously have a respect for what they've done and how they've played, but you have to be confident going in that you're going to be able to beat them. You have to be confident the guys around you feel the same way."
The Cardinals could be without slugger Matt Holliday, who's nursing a hand injury and might not play in Saturday's series opener. The absence of Holliday, who's 1-for-7 in his career against Halladay, softens the St. Louis punch in the middle of a lineup that features Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman.
Still, Halladay has plenty of respect for the depth of the Cardinals' lineup.
"Well, I think they proved over the last couple weeks that they're pretty balanced," he said. "You know, obviously, I think everybody would agree they're a better team with [Holliday], but the guys that have stepped in for him have more than carried their weight. They still have good players in there, and they're still going to play us hard. There's no doubt he's a great player. He can be a difference-maker, but they have some quality players that are stepping in for him who have obviously done the job."