Halladay logs 4th complete game - but is that a good thing?
Charlie Manuel is a pragmatic man in a pragmatic sport that became the national past time because of its appeal to a pragmatic population. You either hit balls, or you miss them. You either miss bats, or you hit them. And, when it all adds up, you either win, or you lose.
Success is measured in 24-hour increments. At the end of the day, you either completed your job, or you didn't. And regardless of the outcome, you try it again tomorrow.
When Manuel wakes up in the morning, his objective is to win that night's game. The best way to ensure success in the long-term is to focus on success in the short-term. Organizations pay people to worry about the big picture. They pay managers to win.
It is a philosophy that has endeared him to many fans in a city that lives shift-to-shift. And when you look at his background, the roots are obvious. When you are lying on a hospital table after a quadruple bypass, you have no choice but to pour every ounce of your being into the here-and-now. Pace yourself with tomorrow in mind and tomorrow might never come. He was a big league bench player who never knew when his next opportunity would arrive. He was fired in Cleveland less than a year after winning a division title. The lesson he seems to have taken from all of it? Nothing is guaranteed.
All of this is important to note when examining his decision to leave Roy Halladay in for all 132 pitches and nine innings of a 2-1 loss to the Pirates.
You might think the Phillies can afford to sacrifice a game in April against the lowly Pirates when they are 11 games over .500 with a five-game division lead. You might think that calling on Jose Contreras to pitch the ninth inning wouldn't even count as sacrificing a game.
But in Manuel's mind, keeping Halladay in the game was his best chance of winning that night's game. And he seems to have a kindred spirit in the ace righthander, who said last night that he could not recall a time when he had told a manager that he was ready to be taken out.
Manuel faced three moments in the final three innings where a call to the bullpen would have made sense: First, when Halladay was due up to bat with one out in the seventh inning and the tying run on first. Second, after an eighth inning in which he gave up a pair of singles and finished with 111 pitches. And, finally, with two out in the ninth inning and his control eluding him and his pitch-count at 126 and runners on first and second.
In the short term, all three moves appeared to pay dividends. In the ninth, Halladay struck Delwyn Young out on a 3-2 curveball to end the frame. In the eighth, he threw just 12 pitches, working out of a jam by getting Ryan Church to ground into a double play. And while Halladay's sacrifice bunt attempt failed in the bottom of the seventh and the Phillies would finish the frame having failed to score a run, his moderate pitch count and the fact that he had allowed just five hits all game provided plenty of justification for leaving him in.
But a baseball season is a marathon. And when your goal is a World Series title, the long-term is often as important as the short-term.
Which is why, even though Manuel and Halladay both believe that his recent workload will not lead to consequences down the road, the question is at least worth asking:
Is riding Halladay as hard as they have through his first nine starts worth the risk of wearing him out down the stretch?
Yesterday marked the first time in Halladay's career in which he threw at least 118 pitches in four straight starts. He has thrown more pitches during that stretch than any other in his career. The 132 pitches he threw last night were one short of his career-high, set last summer.
Halladay has logged more innings (70.1) and thrown more pitches (1,006) in his first nine starts than he has at the start of any other season in his career.
In his three starts prior to last night's 132-pitch effort against the Pirates, Halladay had thrown 118, 119 and 121 pitches, his total number of innings decreasing each time (from nine against the Mets, to seven against the Cardinals, to 6.1 against the Rockies).
On one hand, Halladay has been one of the most consistently durable starters in the majors over the last five years. His previous high in innings through nine starts was 69.2 in 2008, and his previous high in pitches was 982 in 2004.
He also pitched his two most recent starts on five days rest.
If anybody has earned the benefit of the doubt, it is Halladay.
On the other hand, Halladay has never played a season that is an extra month long, which the Phillies hope theirs will be. He is currently on pace to at least tie his career-high of 36 starts in a season, and hopes to have at least four starts in the postseason.
When asked if he is confident that Halladay can handle the early workload without effects down the road, Manuel was confident.
"I know he can," the Phillies manager said.
On that, both he and Halladay agree.