Elliott: The 2003 season belonged to Roy Halladay

RHP Roy Halladay brought a lot to the Blue Jays in 2003 … 22 wins, 266 innings, 204 strikeouts and a Cy Young award, the best of his 12 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays.

RHP Roy Halladay brought a lot to the Blue Jays in 2003 … 22 wins, 266 innings, 204 strikeouts and a Cy Young award, the best of his 12 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays.

By Bob Elliott

Canadian Baseball Network

Roy Halladay gave the Toronto Blue Jays a lot of things during the 2003 season.

Like 22 wins, nine complete games, two shutouts, 266 innings, 204 strikeouts and 3,627 pitches.

The American League Cy Young award winner also gave the Blue Jays clubhouse something new ... the Slow Clap. Halladay would enter the north end of the clubhouse after his postgame, on-field TV interview. Someone at that end of the clubhouse -- where Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Josh Towers were housed -- would slowly begin to clap. While seldom seen the Slow Clap showed more respect than the shaving cream or pie-in -the-face routine.

Halladay would move deeper into the clubhouse as more and more players would see his determined look and join the rhythmic applause. Until finally everyone in the clubhouse was clapping loudly in appreciation.

On his way to baseball heaven, Halladay, threw a perfect game and a no-hitter, but in 2003 he gave Blue Jays fans a 99-pitch, complete game, 10-inning victory over the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 6 at Rogers Centre before 18,261. The last AL pitcher with a scoreless start of 10-plus innings, prior to Halladay, was Kevin Appier of the Kansas City Royals in 1992.

Halladay took a no-hit bit into the eighth and had two out when pinch hitter Kevin Witt, a former minor league teammate, stroked a hanging curve into left centre for a stand-up double. Halladay retired Alex Sanchez on a come backer.

“He told me he wasn’t coming out after the eighth,” his manager that day Carlos Tosca, recalled from Bowie, Md. where he is a roving coach for the Baltimore Orioles.

After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, Warren Morris and Bobby Higginson each singled off Halladay. Tough spot? Not for Halladay who needed two pitches to get three outs. He threw a first pitch double play ball to Dmitri Young and retired Carlos Pena on a fly ball to centre.

“He told me he wasn’t coming out, after the ninth,” Tosca said. “He said, ‘I’m finishing this, I’m going back out.’”

Halladay retired the Tigers 1-2-3, setting down Craig Monroe, Shane Halter and Brandon Inge on 10 pitches in the 10th.

“When he came off after the 10th, he told me wasn’t coming out,” Tosca said.

An 11th would not be needed as Eric Hinske worked a walk facing Fernando Rodney and then Howie Clark bunted him to second. Two batters later (an out and an intentional walk), pinch hitter Bobby Kielty singled home Hinske.

Cue the Slow Clap.

The three most economical 10-inning shut outs were Halladay’s 99 pitches in 2003, St. Louis Cardinals Mark Mulder’s 101-pitch effort against the Houston Astros in 2005 and Philadelphia Phillies Cliff Lee’s 101 blanking the San Francisco Giants.

Said Tosca: “He could have probably gone 12 that day.” Halladay’s catcher that day, Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said “He could have pitched until ... tomorrow.”

You have heard a lot about teams not wanting pitchers to face a lineup a third time. Halladay faced 27 or more batters in a game 292 times, the third most from 1998 to 2013, Only Livan Hernandez (337) and Mark Buehrle (295) worked longer.

Halladay pitched 67 career complete games, by far the most of any pitcher between 1998 and 2013, ahead of Randy Johnson (54), Livan Hernandez (50), Curt Schilling (49) and CC Sabathia (37).

When Tosca talks about the Hall of Famer to his minor leaguers he “tries to share how hard he worked, how many sacrifices he made. Sometimes now there is a tendency to back off on a starting pitching work load.”

Halladay never backed off ... he was all-ahead full.

The story Tosca heard the most often about Halladay is how a Jays minor-league pitching coach, who had worked with Halladay, gave the youngster advice when the player broke news he was being promoted.

“The coach told him to introduce himself to Roy and pick his brain,” Tosca said. “The pitcher introduces himself. Roy listens and walks the kid to Roy’s locker, pulls back the clothes and shows him a sign: ‘Suffer in silence,’ and told the youngster ‘That’s all I got for you right now.’”

Suffer in silence was one of Harvey Dorfman’s messages as in ... “Don’t complain about the umpires, Don’t complain about the strike zone, Don’t complain about a bad hop and Don’t complain about the wind blowing out.” Dorfman was Halladay’s mentor. The pitcher read a dog-eared copy of Dorfman’s “The Mental ABCs of Pitching: A Handbook for Performance” before each start.

There was a time when the Jays were the only organization with three future No. 1 starters (Chris Carpenter, Kelvim Escobar and Halladay) under 25 years of age in the minors. Cy Young awards were predicted for each.

“Roy always encouraged me,” said Escobar. “He won (the award) and then he’s say the next year: ‘This is your year to win.’ I remember the 10-inning shutout. He’d come off the field and start studying game film for the next game.”

Donovan Santas, the Jays head of strength and conditioning remembers a conversation with his good friend Halladay in August of 2003. Toronto had a sub-.500 record and trailed the New York Yankees by 16 games.

“He had logged a ton of innings, he was already over 200,” Santas said. “I suggested we should start pulling back, to get ready for next year. He said, ‘Screw that! I’m working harder than ever the final month.’”

Instead of riding the bike 30 minutes, he rode it 45 minutes. The day after his side session they’d run those “super long sets of stairs in the 500 Level.” One day Santas looked at Halladay. His chest heaving like Halladay’s after running up 104 steps in their 6-to-8 reps (sprinting up, walking down). Legs crushed and lungs burning., Santas said “No one in baseball is working this hard.”

That September, Halladay was 5-1 in six starts with a 1.41 ERA, walking five and striking out 42 hitters in 51 innings. He beat the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians, lost to Tampa and beat Detroit twice, including the 1-0 win.

Flying home after the last game of 2003 season Santas and Halladay were seated beside each other and it went like this.

“I did it.”

“You did what?” asked Santas.

“I did it ... I had fewer walks than games started,” Halladay said.

“Then, he pulled out a book where he’d written down his goals that season,” Santas said. “There it was.”

He made 36 starts while walking 32 (one intentional). He wore No. 32 in Toronto and No. 34 with the Philadelphia Phillies. And now he is on baseball’s No. 1 team.

Reprinted with permission from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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