A few years ago, Bernard Hopkins stuck his face into Charlie Manuel's office at Citizens Bank Park and started talking. When he gets going, no Philadelphia athlete can talk as passionately, as convincingly, or as colorfully as B-Hop, and Manuel, a lover of mental and physical toughness, was instantly mesmerized.
So when Manuel saw Hopkins talking about Saturday's unanimous decision over Jean Pascal on Comcast SportsNet before the Phillies played the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night, Manuel actually stopped what he was doing and watched.
"I liked the part when Michael [Barkann] asked him when he got hit, did it hurt?" Manuel said. "He said, 'Of course it hurt.' He said, 'I don't want to show it because I can hit back.' Just the way he goes about things, the way I talked to him that day . . . he was right on about how you're supposed to go about your business. I know in baseball that's what separates the average guy from the real good ones.
"If you listen to his attitude and how he goes about things and how he talks about winning and his feelings towards things, he's very good."
Kind of like the man Manuel sent to the mound Wednesday night against the Reds. And Manuel certainly saw the similarities between the 46-year-old Hopkins and the 34-year-old Roy Halladay, which is likely why Manuel is so smitten with Hopkins. He, like Halladay, is obsessively prepared. He, like Halladay, is singularly focused on being the best. And he, like Halladay, wants more than anything to beat his opponent's brains in.
Halladay isn't going to drop to the ground and do push-ups before he tries to mow someone over with one of his 90-m.p.h. fastballs, but he certainly could stare a hole through a batter's forehead. He is so intense before, during, and after games that when Ryan Madson's 4-year-old twin boys ran up to him in the Phillies clubhouse after Monday night's game and Halladay actually hugged them, the general reaction was, "Wow, he really is human."
Manuel is a players' coach, but he has never really shown an affinity for his pitchers. He loves his hitters because that is what he was when he played. But Manuel is almost awestruck by Halladay, in large part because Halladay has what Brian Dawkins used to call that "dog" in him. Anyone who throws a no-hitter in the first postseason game of his career is a bad, bad man.
Just like Hopkins.
"He sets in there pretty good with that," Manuel said of Halladay when asked if he sees any similarities between Halladay and Hopkins. "So does my second baseman. We've got some tough players, but also we've got some guys [who] . . . should watch these guys. You can learn things, definitely, from those guys. That's something special that you have."
The last time Halladay faced the Reds was Oct. 6, 2010, in Game 1 of the NL division series, when he threw only the second no-hitter in postseason history. He was untouchable that night, striking out eight. No one really even came close to him.
Halladay was not nearly that sharp Wednesday night. He was average, at best. That we expect so much more from Halladay is only a reflection of just how brilliant he has been for the Phillies since arriving from Toronto before the 2010 season.
Entering Wednesday night's start, Halladay had a 6-3 record, tied for first in the National League, and a 2.21 ERA, and his four complete games were more than 26 other teams in Major League Baseball have thrown this season. Halladay came into the night leading the majors in strikeouts (80), and he had been a workhorse, throwing at least 100 pitches in each of his 10 starts.
It took the Reds seven months, but they finally got a hit off Halladay in the top of the first inning. Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips, batting second, smacked a 91-m.p.h., four-seam fastball up the middle for a cathartic base hit that assured there would be nothing extra special about Halladay's outing.
In total, the Reds got eight hits in the first five innings, with at least one hit in each inning, but they turned those hits into only one run. In the top of the seventh, with a 3-1 lead, Halladay got into trouble when the Reds' first two hitters, Miguel Cairo and Drew Stubbs, singled.
With his pitch count over 100, Halladay gave up a sacrifice bunt to Phillips, then intentionally walked Joey Votto to load the bases. He struck out Scott Rolen, and then had Jay Bruce behind in the count 1-2. With the crowd roaring, Halladay threw a change-up that Bruce drove for a base hit, scoring two runs and tying the score at 3.
Halladay got out of the inning, but his night was over. It was a very un-Halladay-like performance - seven innings, 11 hits, three earned runs, six strikeouts - but even the best fighters have off nights.
As for Hopkins, Manuel said he would like to see the fighter again. And if Hopkins can hit a baseball as well as he hits his opponents, well, there is a spot for him on the Phillies' 40-man roster. Champions are special. Manuel has a couple in his clubhouse, but he would make room for one more.
"I know he wants to be a champion," Manuel said. "I know he wants to excel at what he does. I wish he could hit. I'd sign him. If he could hit or run, I'd sign him."