The thing about unprecedented events is it’s difficult to place it in the proper perspective. Not only is there no historical context in which to measure something, but also it’s tough to wrap your brain around just what it was that occurred.
Then there is Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in his first playoff game on Wednesday night at the Bank against the Cincinnati Reds. Yes, there once was a no-hitter in the post-season—a perfect game, in fact. More notably, Don Larsen’s perfect game came before there was such a thing as divisional play. The first place teams in both leagues went from the regular season straight to the World Series. No fuss, no muss.
So Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series happened so long ago that it doesn’t really translate to a modern audience. Oh sure, a perfect game is easy to understand. It’s 27 up and 27 down. But can a no-no in the World Series be properly compared to a no-hitter in the NLDS 54 years later? The game is different than it was even a few years ago, forget about more than a half a century.
Plus, consider this… only five players who appeared in Larsen’s perfect game are alive today. Four of those players were on the Yankees (Larsen, Yogi Berra, Gil McDougald, Andy Carey) and just one was from Brooklyn (Duke Snider). Even the eye-witnesses to both Larsen and Halladay’s historical games are few and far between. Dallas Green, the former Phils’ manager and current senior advisor to GM Ruben Amaro Jr., says he saw them both putting him in a class not quite as elite as the other club he belongs to.
That even rarer group? Only Green and Charlie Manuel managed the Phillies to a World Series title.
Nevertheless, just how does Halladay’s no-hitter rank in the history of postseason performances? It wasn’t a Game 7 like the 10-inning, 126-pitch shutout Jack Morris pitched in the 1991 World Series to lead the Twins over the Braves. Nor was it a World Series game, like the epic 17-strikeout shutout the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson threw at the Tigers in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series.
Halladay’s gem came in the opening game of the first of three playoff rounds where teams can play as many as 19 postseason games compared to two rounds in Morris’ day and just one series in Gibson’s. If the Phillies go the limit in all three rounds, Halladay could start as many as seven games.
Halladay has never started more than six games in a single month in his career.
Indeed, the game is played much differently these days, and Halladay’s pitching line from his playoff debut speaks for itself. The only way it can improve is if he cuts down on the walks by one. But in using just 104 pitches, the one walk given to Jay Bruce wasn’t that significant. All it did was create a really weird moment when Halladay had to pitch from the stretch. Now that was awkward. While pitching with a runner on base Halladay looked like a newborn fawn attempting to take its first step. It just didn’t look right.
Anyway, stat wizard Bill James came up with a metric called “game score,” which attempts to measure a pitcher’s outing by giving him points for innings pitched and strikeouts and penalizing him for hits, walks and runs allowed. Game score is measured up to 100, a score never achieved.
What game score does not measure or even consider is the magnitude of the game. It also eliminates the humanness of the game. For instance, Halladay’s 104 pitches were amazingly efficient, but he needed seven more pitches than Larsen needed in his perfect game in ’56.
Meanwhile, Morris’ effort in Game 7 scored only an 84. Larsen’s perfecto? That’s only a 94 with three games rated higher. In 2000, Roger Clemens’ tossed a one-hitter against Seattle in the ALCS to garner an all-time high of 98. The second-highest scored game was an 11-inning, three-hit shutout by Dave McNally of Baltimore against the Twins in Game 2 of the 1969 ALCS.
A 25-year-old rookie for Billy Martin’s Twins named Chuck Manuel had a pretty good seat on the bench for McNally’s gem.
No. 3 on the list is a 14-inning effort by Babe Ruth of the Red Sox against Brooklyn in Game 2 of the 1916 World Series. The Red Sox beat the Dodgers for their second straight World Series title that year.
Halladay’s playoff no-hitter is tied with Larsen’s epic with a 94. That supplants Cliff Lee’s 86 in Game 3 of the 2009 NLCS for the best postseason score by a Phillies pitcher in the postseason, but is four points less than the 98 Halladay scored during his perfect game against the Marlins on May 29 of this year.
It’s far from a perfect measurement, but given some semblance of a historical perspective only three games in 107 years of postseason history were better than Halladay’s effort in Game 1 of the NLDS.
Frankly, I prefer to measure great games with my newly devised “talk test.” This is measured by going into the clubhouses of both teams after the game and measuring the hyperbole. In fact, if a player actually uses the word, “hyperbole,” the way Joey Votto did on Wednesday night, give up a million bonus points.
So as far as the talk test goes, the best read comes in the losing team’s clubhouse. In that regard, the adjectives and awed expressions from the Reds were just like those from the Phillies.
“I wonder how many times I would have struck out if I would have kept going up there,” said Scott Rolen, who went 3-for-3 in strikeouts against Halladay in Game 1.
Rolen was a teammate of Halladay’s for parts of two seasons in Toronto and knows what it’s like to be in the field with the big righty on the mound.
“Being his teammate, [a no-hitter] could happen every time he goes out there. You know that,” Rolen said. “You don’t expect it, though. We didn’t draw it up like that in our hitters’ meetings, but we had our hands full. He’s the best pitcher in baseball in my opinion.”
That opinion was the consensus on Wednesday night. When asked what he thought about Halladay’s pitches from his spot at shortstop, Jimmy Rollins shook his head and searched for the words.
“Filthy,” Rollins said, adding that Halladay’s pitches were nastier on Wednesday than during his perfect game in May. “Filthy. Completely filthy.”
Votto probably explained it best.
“When you’re trying to thread a needle at the plate, it’s miserable. It’s not fun up there trying to hit nothing,” Votto said.
So again, what do we compare it to? Sure, it’s easy to compare statistics from games throughout time, but what about the repertoire of pitches? Is it possible?
Probably not, but let’s try anyway. From the Phillies side, rookie Dom Brown said it was like watching a video game the way Halladay’s curve swept from right to left and the way his cutter snapped like a branch breaking off a tree.
Jonny Gomes, the Reds’ left-fielder who struck out twice in three at-bats, said that while he didn’t waive the white flag, he pretty much ceded one side of the plate to Halladay so that he could concentrate on the opposite side in the odd chance that he might get something to hit.
I’ll liken Halladay’s cutter on Wednesday to the splitter Mike Scott threw in the 1986 NLCS for the Astros against the Mets. Scott pitched two complete games in the ’86 series, allowed eight hits against 19 strikeouts and one run. Fourteen of those strikeouts came in the Game 1 shutout and left the Mets scrambling to collect game-used balls in order to send them off to the league office as some sort of proof that Scott was scuffing them in order to make the splitter dance out of the strike zone so effectively.
The difference between Halladay and Scott, however, was the balls collected by the Reds were to keep for the trophy case to show people they were there.