No true ace willfully gives up the ball with a game on the line. As a fan, you admire this, but sometimes, you still have a hard time trusting them. Maybe the closer should be called you think.
But when Roy says he's got it under control, you just have to trust him, no matter how bad things might look. Halladay has earned the right to be his own closer.
I learned this last night in the ninth inning as the Phillies played the Nationals. Through the first eight innings, Halladay was on cruise control, allowing only two hits and shutting out Washington. Although he had thrown nearly 100 pitches, things seemed to be in control.
That was about to change as Rick Ankiel led off with a double. Jayson Werth followed with a single. Just like that, Halladay was in his first jam of the night as the tying run came to the plate. The bullpen came to life. Surely, Charlie would be out on the mound to congratulate Roy on a game well pitched, and put the ball in the hand of closer Jose Contreras.
But Manuel stayed in the dugout.
Halladay struck out the next hitter, Adam LaRoche, but the next two batters singled, driving in two runs and putting the tying run on second.
Now, Manuel came running out of the dugout.
The announcers assured those of us viewing at home that when Charlie runs out of the dugout he is not ready to make a pitching change. The game seemed to be slipping away, a loss in a game like this could wreck the rest of the week and kill a team's momentum, especially following a loss the night before.
Surely Charlie must realize Halladay was done, I thought. The 100-plus pitches having taken their toll, Halladay simply would not be able to finish what he had started, no matter how badly he wanted to.
Halladay, however, did not see things my way. He assured his manager and teammates that he had things under control and would protect the Phillies lead, which was now perilously close to slipping away.
As Manuel walked back to the dugout, without taking his ace with him, I implored him to reconsider. He did not and Halladay stayed in the game.
What followed was some of the most focused, clutch pitching that I have ever seen in the ninth inning of a game. The Nationals called for pinch hitter extraordinaire Matt Stairs to the plate, the same Matt Stairs who became a Phillies folk hero for his late game heroics. I had a bad feeling about this matchup. Stairs could end the game with one swing. Given a fastball middle-in, Stairs would send the Nationals home winners.
Halladay simply fired three straight fastballs on the outside corner. Stairs didn't even move the bat from his shoulder. I had never seen a hitter so overmatched at the plate. Pudge Rodriguez followed. The game now seemed safe. Again, Halladay disposed of the hitter with three pitches. The last a filthy curveball on the outside that buckled Rodriguez.
With this performance, Halladay has, in my opinion, earned the right to dictate whether or not he will stay in the game. The way he bore down in crunch time was incredible. To strike out the final two hitters on six pitches, with the tying run in scoring position, shows that Halladay is a true ace.
Charlie Manuel obviously knew better than to take the ball from Roy Halladay. Next time I see Halladay in a jam in the ninth inning, I will know better as well.