IT WAS GETAWAY DAY. Late July 1973. The last of a four-game series in front of 21,000 fans at the Oakland Coliseum. The 21-year-old rookie was minding his own business on the bench when the rookie manager approached.
"Jim's going to hit," Whitey Herzog said to the rookie. "Then you are going to play short."
The rookie's mind screamed in protest. Whitey, what are you doing? Aren't you watching this game? I mean, the guy has a no-hitter going.
But the rookie followed orders, replacing Jim Fregosi at shortstop, where he ended up fielding two of the final six outs of Jim Bibby's no-hitter over the Athletics.
The victory that day was one of only 57 the Texas Rangers would record that season. Still, as Pete Mackanin told the tale of his role in history, he offered a wistful smile that illustrated just how monumental a moment he and the 2010 Phillies witnessed 3 decades later.
"I could feel the buzz in the crowd," Mackanin, now the Phillies' bench coach, said as he flashed forward to the moment Roy Halladay took the mound for the final inning of his epic no-hit, one-walk performance against the Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series Wednesday night. "I could feel the anticipation, the wanting-it-to-happen. I could feel that."
Regardless of what happens over the next 1, 2, 3 weeks, that feeling will not disappear for the players and coaches who were closest to Halladay on the night he put his stamp on postseason history.
Really, the word no-hitter does not do justice to the dominance that the veteran righthander displayed. Because except for the three straight balls he threw in a fifth-inning walk of Reds slugger Jay Bruce, Harry Leroy Halladay was more perfect than a lot of pitchers who have achieved perfection. Of the 27 outs he recorded, only four left the infield. Of the 28 batters he faced, only three took a first-pitch ball.
"Just watching in the past, no-hitters always have one or two great plays made in the game," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "So my mindset was trying to figure out which great play I was going to make. Do I dive for this ball? Do I barehand it? I'm like, 'Oh, man, that's something Omar [Vizquel] would do. Do you have the courage to do that?'
"I wasn't nervous because I was more concerned about what play I might have to make. Once he walked Jay Bruce, that took the perfect game out of the equation, so that helps relax you. But you try to figure out what you can do to preserve it because it seems like there's always one highlight play that helps preserve a perfect game or a no-hitter. I was just hoping to be that guy."
Nobody needed to be that guy. Rollins made a tougher-than-it-looked play in the fourth inning to field a ground ball deep in the hole and throw to first. In the third, opposing pitcher Travis Wood hit a sinking fly ball to rightfield that Jayson Werth played perfectly.
By the ninth inning, the only possible outcome other than a no-hitter seemed to be a fluke hit that would find the wrong patch of grass at the wrong time. It might have come on the final out, when a swinging bunt from Brandon Phillips dribbled in front of his fallen bat, but catcher Carlos Ruiz fielded it cleanly and threw to first from his knees.
"All you have to do is watch the hitters, and they'll tell you how good a guy is on a particular night," said Phillies first-base coach Davey Lopes. "There are guys who have pitched no-hitters, and there are five or six plays that are rockets here, rockets there, that type of thing. There wasn't any of that [Wednesday] night. Nothing. Nothing! To me, that's the key."
As a player, Lopes participated in four no-hitters. In June 1980, he played the entire game at second base and went 3-for-5 and scored two runs as the Dodgers' Jerry Reuss no-hit the Giants. In September 1983, he played eight innings at second and went 2-for-3 with two doubles and a run as Oakland's Mike Warren no-hit the White Sox. Two other times, he was on the opposite end, going 0-for-3 against Nolan Ryan in September 1981 and 0-for-4 against John Candelaria in August 1976.
"I've been in the game a long time," Lopes said. "I've seen a lot of great pitchers, a lot of no-hitters, and I just feel that was probably the most dominance I've seen."
After the Phillies took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, Lopes turned to someone in the Phillies dugout and said, "That might be all we need."
Hitting coach Greg Gross, who played rightfield for the Astros when Larry Dierker no-hit the Expos in 1976, had the same realization.
"To be able to be on the bench and watch that from this vantage point - nothing can take away from that," Gross said. "I'm not afraid to admit that you get caught up in watching him. Not only being part of the staff, but being a fan, too, watching that."
After Halladay retired Phillips to become the second pitcher in postseason history to throw a no-hitter, the Reds' second baseman said that the veteran righthander would have done the same if the Phillies were the team he was facing.
Lopes took it one step further.
"He'd have beat the '27 Yankees if they were still alive," he said.
That Yankees team won the World Series, which remains Halladay's chief goal. So, after the hoopla subsided Wednesday night, after he arrived at his locker and hugged his two sons and ignored the bottle of champagne the Phillies had placed on ice for him, the veteran righthander did what he always does. He drove back to his house in suburban Philadelphia, went to sleep, and woke up in plenty of time to arrive at the ballpark at 10 a.m., 3 hours before the Phillies were scheduled to hold their off-day workout.
He took a congratulatory call from vice president Joe Biden on Wednesday night, and has announced that he will donate his game jersey to the Hall of Fame. Yesterday, though, he avoided the post-no-hitter interview circuit. The Phillies received calls from CNN and the "Late Show" with David Letterman, but limited his commitments to an interview on MLB Network. He is scheduled to speak with the media this afternoon before the start of Game 2.
"He's never going to change," Lopes said. "He's a very humble guy, which I think makes his mystique even greater. He always speaks in 'we' terms. His pronouns are in the right place."
He pitched a no-hitter. They will always remember.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.