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As the Phillies retire No. 34, Andrew McCutchen and others share memories of Roy Halladay

McCutchen got to see a different side of Halladay, who was a mentor to catcher Andrew Knapp and a rival of manager Joe Girardi.

Late Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay faces Andrew McCutchen in a spring-training game.
Late Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay faces Andrew McCutchen in a spring-training game.Read moreYong Kim / Staff Photographer

Andrew McCutchen could talk for hours about facing Roy Halladay. He could tell you about a pitch that helped set the late Hall of Famer apart (“First time I had ever seen a cutter”), or the wishful advice of hitting coaches (“The whole scouting report was, ‘Pick a side of the plate -- inside or outside’”), or his one hit off him in 13 at-bats (“Just stuck my bat out and got a little dinky single up the middle.”)

But since you asked, there’s one story that McCutchen wants to share before the Phillies posthumously retire No. 34 on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.

“Just one other cool thing about Halladay,” the veteran left fielder said the other day before a game in Washington, “that no one knows.”

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Several years ago, McCutchen and his wife (then girlfriend), Maria, went to Hawaii as part of an offseason trip for players who have sponsorship deals with Nike. Halladay was there, too. Among the activities was a gift exchange in which each guest made a craft and swapped it randomly for someone else’s.

“You would pick a number and you would get whoever’s gift it is, so my wife got Halladay’s gift,” McCutchen said. “It was all these cool gifts being given out, and Halladay carved the inside of a pineapple out and made it into like this little turtle and he made a Nike logo out of it. That was her gift. My wife was like, ‘I want to keep it,’ but we couldn’t preserve it. It was really funny. We all laughed about it.

“I only knew Halladay as the pitcher, but I got to know the personal side of him a little more. He was very, very playful -- and a lot of jokes. A lot of jokes. He was a joker. People didn’t really get to see that side of him. It was one of my fondest memories of him.”

To Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp, Halladay was a mentor, even though they met less than a handful of times.

Knapp got drafted in 2013, a few months before Halladay started what turned out to be the final game of his 16-year career. Three years later, in January 2016, Halladay accepted an invitation to speak at the Phillies’ annual prospect seminar at Citizens Bank Park. He talked for nearly an hour, often referring to the lessons he learned from longtime mental skills coach Harvey Dorfman, then took questions. Knapp wasn’t going to watch the pitch go by.

“My question was, ‘Everyone says to act like you’ve been there before. But if you’ve never been there before, how do you do that?’” Knapp recalled the other day. “He gave me a great answer, and I still think about it a lot. He said, ‘Keep your confidence, know that you belong, but listen before you speak.’ I still think about that even though this is my fifth year in the big leagues. Constantly learn, constantly listen, and watch the game. That stuff has really stuck with me.”

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When Knapp made the opening-day roster in 2017, the Phillies assigned him No. 34. It never felt right to him. Phillies director of clubhouse services Phil Sheridan reassured him, noting that four other players (A.J. Burnett, Aaron Harang, A.J. Ellis, and Brett Oberholtzer) had worn 34 since Halladay retired.

But there wasn’t any debate after Halladay died in a plane crash on Nov. 7, 2017. Knapp would no longer wear the number. Now, after the Phillies took it out of circulation, it will be the seventh uniform number retired for a player in the organization, joining Nos. 36 (Robin Roberts), 1 (Richie Ashburn), 32 (Steve Carlton), 20 (Mike Schmidt), 14 (Jim Bunning), and 15 (Dick Allen).

“I felt honored wearing it, but I also felt a little weird because I didn’t think someone should wear that number,” Knapp said. “Whenever I see 34, even though I wore that for a year, I don’t associate it with anyone but him.”

Halladay almost always seemed to have Joe Girardi’s number. Take 2009, for example. Girardi managed the New York Yankees to 103 wins, a division title, and as Phillies fans remember too well, a World Series championship. But they faced Halladay five times with the Toronto Blue Jays and lost three of those games. The year before, also with Girardi at the helm, the Yankees dropped five of six games against Halladay.

“We never beat him. Never,” Girardi said. “The teams I had never beat him. And we never missed him. He was incredible. We’d get one run and I’d say, ‘That’s it. Let’s go, pitchers!’ He was as dominant as any pitcher for like a six-, seven-year period as I’ve seen. It was something. I was so happy when he got traded [to the Phillies].”

Halladay was at the peak of his powers in 2010, his first season with the Phillies. He went 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA, racked up 219 strikeouts and only 30 walks, led the majors in innings (250⅔), threw a perfect game, tossed a no-hitter in the playoffs for good measure, and copped his second Cy Young Award.

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McCutchen got his first look at Halladay in the midst of that run. It didn’t go well. He struck out in each of his first two at-bats against Halladay on May 18, 2010, then grounded out. Finally, in the eighth inning, he got a hit.

“Slider out over the plate,” McCutchen said. “I remember being like, ‘All right, I got a hit off a Hall of Famer.’”

“I felt like he could expose your weaknesses pretty easily compared to a lot of the guys that I had faced. You could tell he did his homework. You might face a pitcher who throws a slider and you check-swing at it. It’s a ball. With him, he would mark that down in his head and he would remember. Then he’d throw this pitch to get you to expand and swing at that one. He was always analyzing.

“He would give you a pitch to hit, but if you don’t, you’re not going to get another one. My 15 at-bats, most times I missed it.”

A generation of hitters knew the feeling.