He was, by turns, a painter, brushing the outer, unreachable edges of the plate, and a surgeon, carving the hitters with cool dispatch.
He made the ball dive, and he made it rise.
He pitched up and in, and he pitched down and away.
And everything he threw moved in a different direction, save one - straight.
The ball was his with which to do whatever he pleased. He had caught the genie of baseball in a generous mood.
In that case, said Roy Halladay, I think I'd like to be perfect. You know, for a night.
And so perfect he was, on a steamy night in South Florida, crafting what was only the 20th perfecto in the whole history of major-league baseball.
Why is the perfecto so rare? For starters, there are 27 chances to foul it up. A bounce the wrong way . . . a broken-bat flare . . . a fly ball lost in the lights . . . oh, yes, so many chances to lose, so many ways to lose.
The no-hitter is daunting enough. But what separates the perfect from the no-no is a slate that is without so much as a smudge - no walks, no errors, no excuses.
Roy Halladay said he began to get that certain feeling along about the sixth inning last night. From there on into the barn, he said, he just followed "Chooch." Carlos Ruiz caught perfection, and on this night catcher and pitcher were in lockstep rhythm, each in tune with the other.
Halladay's arsenal of pitches is extensive and impressively varied - fastball, cutter, change, curve, and subtle variations of those. And last night, he lived on the corners. Even though he ran several 3-ball and 3-2 counts, he was able to escape. His control, especially when it mattered, was meticulous.
Remember, too, his last time out, a loss to the Boston Red Sox, touched off a firestorm of controversy about pitch count, with manager Charlie Manuel accused of using up his ace.
Manuel scoffed at the charge, and Halladay himself insisted the pounding he took was in no way related to the number of pitches he launched, rather his inability to properly locate them. Translation: The slop I threw up there had "Hit me" written all over it - and they did.
Last night, everyone with a bat was at his mercy. Marlins flopped helplessly about like boated bass, flailing wildly or staring incredulously over called strike three and thinking: Hit that? Don't think so.
In all the celebrating, Halladay seemed singularly unimpressed with what he had just done, his bristled face still tight. He still had his Darth Vader face on.
Later, he would loosen. Perfection takes some time getting over.
Bill Lyon: INSIDE
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