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Bob Ford: This day, past met present

Baseball is not always a straight line into the past, but it is an unbroken one, with one generation of players reaching forward to hold onto the game and another reaching back to pull them aboard.

Baseball is not always a straight line into the past, but it is an unbroken one, with one generation of players reaching forward to hold onto the game and another reaching back to pull them aboard.

Robin Roberts liked to come around to the Phillies clubhouse, particularly in spring training, and introduce himself to the new players. They all knew his name, of course, although some of the things he had done - 183 complete games in the space of seven seasons? - seemed as if they came from the pages of a book long out of print.

Still, he was a Hall of Famer who sat to visit with them, a humble, unpretentious man who admired the new players without being jealous of their good fortune to play in the modern age.

"I've got to meet Roy Halladay," Roberts told people this spring when he was getting ready to go to Clearwater. "I met him once, but I'm sure he doesn't remember. I want to meet him."

Halladay was the winning pitcher in Citizens Bank Park on Thursday, pitching as long and as well as he could on the day that Roberts died peacefully at his Florida home. It wasn't a complete game - no story is quite that neat - but the 7-2 win required 119 pitches through seven innings for Halladay. A couple of errors extended one inning and put a run on the board, some close pitches that were called balls extended another and probably cost Halladay a shot at his fourth complete game this season.

Roberts would have liked the complete game, but he would have liked the win even more.

"It was about the willingness to want to go out and want the ball more than anything," Halladay said. "That's what it came down to, not finishing the game, but wanting the ball, wanting to compete as long as possible."

Halladay was given a Robin Roberts-type moment Thursday when manager Charlie Manuel came to the mound with two outs in the seventh, two men on base and St. Louis cleanup hitter Matt Holliday at the plate.

"OK, Roy, here I am," Manuel said, upon arriving. "Where you at?"

Halladay, naturally, was going to stay where he was, given the option. He told Manuel he could get the hitter and then proceeded to do so with just one pitch.

There were other remembrances of Roberts on Thursday, on the field and off. He was there amid the bank of flagpoles above the wall in left-center field, where the 1950 National League pennant waved at half-staff in the strong left-to-right breeze.

He was there, perhaps even stronger, in the mind of Jayson Werth, who grew up in Roberts' hometown of Springfield, Ill., and who learned things about his hometown hero and about his own family as well from the older man.

"He's a pretty big figure back there. Always has been. Just the name was a big deal to me," Werth said. "Then to get to know him and find out what kind of guy he was. He knew my great-grandfather, and not too many people that I've known knew him."

Maybe Halladay couldn't get a complete game on Thursday to form a perfect frame around the day, but Werth could somehow hit the three-run, first-inning home run that put the win in motion.

Werth took a pitch the opposite way off Kyle Lohse after a two-out single by Chase Utley and a walk to Ryan Howard. As Werth crossed home plate, in an uncharacteristic display of emotion for him, he stopped and pointed to the sky.

"I don't usually do that sort of thing, but Robin was definitely on my mind and in the hearts of many people today," Werth said. "That was definitely a big 'ups' to Robin right there."

Baseball has actually been almost a straight line for Werth's family. His uncle and his grandfather both played in the major leagues and, like Jayson, both were lucky enough to win World Series rings.

But his great-grandfather, born in Linwood, Delaware County, was only good enough or lucky enough to make his way through the minor leagues in the 1920s and 1930s. He played for Crisfield in the old Class D Eastern Shore League in Maryland and had stops in Hagerstown, Md., Wilmington, N.C., San Antonio, York, Pa., Hazleton, Pa. and finally, Springfield, Ill., where his professional career ended in 1938.

Some years later, still playing sandlot, John Schofield played with an up-and-coming 17-year-old on his way to pro ball. And, of course, that was Robin Roberts.

"My great-grandfather died when I was about 10, but he definitely played a big part in my life," Werth said. "I spent a lot of time with him and he worked on hand-to-eye coordination with me. Then, fast forward 20 years and Robin was talking about him. He played with him when my great-grandfather was, like, 45. The stories were special to me. He gave me details I had never gotten out of anyone else. It all came full circle."

That's what baseball does if you give it enough time. A pitching staff will lose a workhorse and, eventually, get another, even if the horses don't ever seem to work as long or as often these days.

Seasons spin by, one linking to the next while it still holds hands with the past. Players get older and move on. They come back and then they don't.

Home runs go over the fence and sometimes, when you touch home plate, it means more than just a run. It means you are playing the same game as a friend who just died, the one who played with your great-grandfather, who touched the same plate all those years ago.