Roy Halladay had cruised through five innings Sunday against the Astros at Minute Maid Park, but suddenly found himself in jams in the sixth and seventh. But Halladay never flinched, so Manuel never flinched. Halladay kept his cool, so Manuel kept his cool.
"He was there," Manuel said.
Halladay was there.
Halladay was in complete control in a complete-game 2-1 victory. It was the 150th win and 50th complete game of his career.
"He kind of smelled it," Manuel said.
Halladay improved to 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA. In a combined 16 innings in two starts with the Phils, he has allowed 13 hits, two runs, one earned run and two walks. He has struck out 17 as he helped Philadelphia to a 5-1 start.
It is the club's best start since opening 1993 with a 7-1 record.
Phillies fans watched Halladay dominate in seven innings on Opening Day in Washington, but they watched him battle through two tough innings against Houston. If they hadn't appreciated Halladay's prowess before, they certainly found some appreciation in the sixth and seventh innings.
Houston pinch-hitter Chris Johnson hit a leadoff single to left field to start the sixth. Michael Bourn followed with a bunt single up the first-base line. Halladay fielded the ball and made an off-balance desperation throw to first base. The ball skipped past first baseman Ryan Howard, but Chase Utley backed up the play to prevent both runners from advancing a base.
"Sometimes you get guys like that and they get out of the runner's box and you really don't have a play, but if you hit them, they're out," Halladay said, explaining why he made the off-balance throw. "That's kind of what I was thinking. Obviously, I missed. But if you see them out of the box and you get a chance to plunk them, it's an out. That was about the only play I had."
Jeff Keppinger followed with another bunt, this one up the third-base line. Halladay fielded the ball, but Placido Polanco couldn't get back to third in time. Halladay double-clutched his throw as Polanco ran to third and threw low. Polanco couldn't catch the ball, and suddenly, the Astros had the bases loaded with no outs with the Phils holding a 2-0 lead.
|"The closer you get the more fun it is, really. You'd like to have it a little easier than the sixth and seventh, but once you get out of that trouble and you know you're getting closer, that's when you want to be out there. It's fun to make pitches in those situations."|
|-- Roy Halladay, on going distance|
Halladay said he didn't try to get Cory Sullivan to hit into a double play in the following at-bat, but he threw him back-to-back sinkers and Sullivan did just that. Johnson scored on the play to cut the Phillies' lead to 2-1, but Halladay suddenly had just a runner on third with two outs.
"The key right there was to make a good pitch down because we needed a ground ball or a strikeout," Carlos Ruiz said. "He threw a good sinker down and away. That's a big pitch for him."
Halladay got Carlos Lee to pop out to end the inning.
"He made some quality pitches and did exactly what he's supposed to do," Manuel said.
Geoff Blum and Pedro Feliz both singled to start the seventh and Kazuo Matsui sacrificed them to second and third with one out. But Halladay got J.R. Towles to ground out and Jason Michaels to strike out to end the inning.
"He pitched pretty good," Lee said. "Today he was throwing four different pitches in any count. Today I got a 3-2 split-finger. The guy is tough. He won't give in. If he has to pitch around you, he will, and when he's got to make pitches he'll make a pretty good pitch. That's why he's one of the Cy Young winners."
Halladay had avoided the trouble. Now he just wanted to finish the game.
"Yeah, absolutely," Halladay said. "The closer you get the more fun it is, really. You'd like to have it a little easier than the sixth and seventh, but once you get out of that trouble and you know you're getting closer, that's when you want to be out there. It's fun to make pitches in those situations."
Halladay retired the final six batters he faced to send the Phillies home in good spirits for Monday's 3:05 p.m. ET home opener against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.
"We have a good feel on our team right now," Manuel said.
It helps to have Halladay every fifth day, knowing that even when things look bad, they might not be bad at all.
Halladay looks capable of picking up a few wins this season, assuming he gets a few runs. The Phils got him only two Sunday -- Jimmy Rollins got things started with a leadoff homer against Roy Oswalt -- but it was enough.
Halladay was asked if getting his 150th win makes him appreciate 300-game winners that much more.
"Absolutely," he said. "I don't know how guys like that did it, to have the staying power to do it that long. To be that good that long is kind of hard to fathom."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.