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Phillies Serve Notice to Playoff Field with Halladay's No-Hitter

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Leading up to their series opener against the Reds, there was no shortageRoy Halladay continues to make history. of experts promoting the Phillies as World Series favorites.

But since backing a team with the league’s best record, best pitching, and scariest lineup can hardly be categorized as going out on a limb, many of those playoff previews included a caveat about how the Reds could trip up the heavily favored Phillies.

The Reds, it was noted, were the first team in over three years to displace the Phillies’ from their position atop the National League’s offensive rankings. The Central Division champs also featured the odds-on favorite for league MVP (Joey Votto),  an excellent bullpen headlined by a 105-mph flamethrower (Aroldis Chapman), and a youthful starting rotation that had previously held the Phillies’ bats in check.

So, as the best-of-five game series arrived on Wednesday, a sense of cautious optimism was the theme among Phillies fans. Being too confident, after all, could be a huge mistake when a Game 1 defeat means that you are only two losses away from elimination.

Fortunately for Phillies fans, it took Roy Halladay all of ten pitches to chase nearly every butterfly from their collective stomachs. Those ten pitches retired the Reds in order in the top of the first while also retiring the ridiculous speculation that Doc’s lack of lack of playoff experience could be a cause for concern.

Over the next two and a half hours, baseball fans across America were lucky enough to witness one of the most dominant pitching performances in the history of the playoffs. Halladay’s fastball, cutter, sinker and changeup locked onto the targets set by Carlos Ruiz and produced twenty seven quiet outs amid 46,000 loud voices. He registered first-pitch strikes against 25 of the 28 Reds hitters that he faced, and had only one batted ball (by Reds pitcher Travis Wood) that even came close to a base hit.

Halladay’s dominance in Game 1 has been, appropriately, the most discussed performance of the playoffs thus far. However, the Phillies also served notice to the other seven playoff teams that they are ready to play World Series-caliber baseball.

You see, when the playoffs arrive, the Phillies have a way of elevating their play to a level that most teams simply can’t match. On display Wednesday night were the elements that have made the Phillies the best team in baseball over the last three postseasons.

First, there were those tough at-bats during which the Phillies simply outlast the opposing pitcher. In this case, it was the power-pitching Edinson Volquez  that was beaten into submission. The first two innings featured six Phillies at-bats of five pitches or more, including two eight-pitch showdowns and a nine-pitch battle. There is no better symbol of the Phillies playoff success over the last three years than their refusal to give in to opposing pitchers. Phillies hitters simply don’t give away at-bats in the postseason and the pitch counts of their opponents climb in direct correlation to the pressure being applied.

Game 1 also illustrated the Phillies ability to produce one of playoff baseball’s most valuable commodities: two-out runs. The bottom of the second inning seemed harmless enough for the Reds, as Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez’s were retired in order. Those outs were anything but routine, though, as they battled a frustrated Volquez for a total of fifteen pitches. That left the Phillies with two outs and their number seven hitter, Carlos Ruiz, coming to bat.

Ruiz worked a four-pitch walk, then advanced to second on an infield single by Wilson Valdez. Halladay coolly delivered a run with a single to left. Jimmy Rollins grinded out an eight-pitch walk, and then Shane Victorino ended Volquez’s night (and for all purposes, the Red’s night) with a two-run single that made the score 4-0. The two-out rally began with nobody on base and was kick-started by the Phillies seven, eight and nine hitters. In fact, the Phillies Game 1 victory showed that they can win a game during which their big guns don’t fire. Their third through sixth hitters were a combined 1-for-15 on the night and the offense still posted four runs for their staff ace.

With one of their three star pitchers rolling along and the offense rallying behind him, the only thing left for the Phillies to demonstrate was their penchant for choking out an opponent with air tight defense. While there were very few difficult plays to be made, the fielders made everything look routine, and Ruiz closed out the no-hitter with a throw from his knees that most catchers would have sent down the right field line. Once again, the Phillies sent a message to the playoff contenders that they will give away nothing during the quest for another World Series.

Recent history shows that when the calendar flips to October, the Phillies assume a completely different identity, not that there is anything wrong with their 97-win regular season image. It’s just that they achieve a level of fundamental soundness and toughness that may seem easy, but is the envy of every team in the majors.

So, while Roy Halladay’s night will go down as one of the greatest performances in franchise and playoff history, it can also be viewed as a statement win for the Phillies. There is no question that seven other playoff teams realized that the road to a championship just got even tougher. Game 1 showed that the pieces are in place for another Phillies World Series run, and that the team’s approach will be the same as it has been since 2008. The Phillies will show up every night and make baseball life miserable for whoever resides in the opposing dugout.

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

Roy and Chooch Picture courtesy of Associated Press

Phils Celebrate Photo courtesy of AP: Rob Carr