Halladay rewrites history
In the press box at Nationals Park, just past the elevators, is a framed copy of Shirley Povich's Oct. 9, 1956 column for The Washington Post. I've stopped and looked at it so many times, I know the lead by heart: "The million-to-one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar. Don Larsen today pitched a no-hit, no-run, no-man-reach-first game in a World Series." (Read the whole blessed thing here; it's worth your while.)
I had the same sense of awe and history Wednesday night at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, as Roy Halladay mowed down the Cincinnati Reds to join Larsen as the only pitchers in baseball history to throw a postseason no-hitter. I only wish I had Shirley's gift for conveying it.
It's probably true that Halladay's gem -- sullied as it was by a fifth-inning walk, and coming in the first round of what is now a three-tiered playoff system -- does not quite have the monumental impact of Larsen's, which, of course, came in the World Series and was, in fact, perfect.
Larsen's gem truly did seem like a million-to-one shot. At the time, there hadn't been a perfect game of any sort -- regular season or World Series -- in 34 years. And Larsen was an utterly ordinary pitcher -- at best. In 1955, he led the majors with 21 losses. Three days before his perfect game, he was pounded in a 13-8 loss in Game 2. The fact he was even handed the ball for the Game 5 start was a bit of a surprise. He would retire in 1967 with a career record of 81-91.
Halladay? Let's say he was a thousand-to-one shot. This was a pitcher widely considered the best in the game, a pitcher who had thrown a perfect game 4 1/2 months earlier, and who had dominated the Washington Nationals during a complete-game, two-hitter in his final regular season start. (Both of those starts, incidentally, came when Halladay had five days' rest, instead of his regular four; Wednesday night's no-hitter came on eight days' rest.)
But history doesn't lie -- and a postseason no-hitter was, statistically, the most difficult thing to accomplish in baseball: There had been only one in more than a century's worth of playoff games. In fact, only one other pitcher besides Larsen had even come within three outs of throwing one -- Bill Bevens in 1947. (I was trying to think of the best postseason pitching performance I had covered before Halladay's no-hitter, and decided it had to be Roger Clemens's 15-strikeout one-hitter against the Seattle Mariners in the 2000 ALCS.)
One could argue that it is easier now to throw a postseason no-hitter than in Larsen's day because of the expanded playoff format -- baseball went to two rounds in 1969, and three in 1995 -- which brings an exponentially greater opportunity. But to me, that only makes Halladay's achievement all the more remarkable -- because even with all that extra opportunity, still no one had done it since Larsen. Of course, that could be because Halladay himself had never made a postseason start before Wednesday night.
Even more so than Povich's, it was Dick Young's lead for the New York Daily News off the Larsen game that is most widely recalled: "The imperfect man threw a perfect game." If there is one takeaway from Halladay's gem it is just the opposite: The perfect man threw an imperfect game.
Halladay is, in every way, the perfect pitcher. Perfect body -- tall and lean. Perfect work ethic -- despite his skills, he outworks everyone. Perfect repertoire -- four pitches, all of which he can throw for strikes at any time. Perfect makeup -- in his postgame news conference, he was genuinely humble, and he never put his individual achievement above the team achievement of winning Game 1.
Hell didn't freeze over Wednesday night. A month of Sundays didn't hit the calendar. This go-round, there was none of the shocking incongruity of Larsen's moment. The time had come for another bid for history, and the perfect pitcher had arrived to do it.
| October 7, 2010; 10:37 AM ET
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