WASHINGTON - Every now and then, things like this just happen in baseball.
The nature of the game is such that even the best pitcher or hitter can come up with an inexplicable clunker.
Still, things like that rarely happen to Roy Halladay.
When they do, it looks a little extra weird.
The bottom of the seventh inning of the Phillies' 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals yesterday looked like it was going to enter a Theatre of the Bizarre.
In the top half of the seventh, the Phillies' bats had bailed Halladay out of a deficit for the second time. Washington had posted an early 2-0 lead, but the Phillies scored three in the fourth. Washington took a 4-3 lead, but two runs in the seventh put the Phillies up 5-4.
In 31 previous starts, Halladay had a 26-3 record in games during which the Phillies had given him a lead.
Considering that the Nationals had reclaimed the lead twice already, the safe assumption was that Halladay would make sure they would not do it a third time.
But suddenly here it was.
Alex Cora had blooped a lead-off double and Ian Desmond reached on a bunt to give Washington runners on first and third with nobody out and the top of the batting order coming up.
Then, just like that, the Nats got a harsh reminder of why Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball.
Rick Ankiel smacked a hard grounder that Halladay's throwing motion had guided him toward. Halladay slapped down the ball and then picked it up in time to get Cora, who had strayed into no-man's land off third base, in a rundown. The putout went Halladay to catcher Carlos Ruiz to third baseman Placido Polanco. Just as important, Desmond was not able to move from second to third base.
Danny Espinosa then hit a fly to left that probably would have been deep enough to score a runner from third and tie the game. Instead, it was just a second out.
Then Halladay whiffed $126 million man and former teammate Jayson Werth for the third out.
Antonio Bastardo and Jose Conteras came in to combine for a scoreless eighth, then Ryan Madson closed it out for his 12th save.
Halladay improved to 7-3 and beat the Nationals for the 10th consecutive time on a day when he didn't have his best stuff and was pitching in a blast furnace.
"It was a grind," said Halladay, who threw 111 pitches in a game that started out at 92 degrees and reached 95, with a heat index as high as 99. "You're not used to it getting that hot and humid. Fortunately, we did enough offensively. They picked me up a couple of times with comebacks."
The expectations for a Halladay start are normally so high that sometimes we overlook the grittier edges of his greatness if he doesn't throw a three-hit shutout.
Yesterday was all about the mustang in the big horse.
The line - 7 innings, 10 hits, 4 runs and 3 home runs - was so not Halladay. In fact, it was his first multiple home-run game of the season; in his previous 84 innings, he had allowed just two homers.
But that seventh inning, when the game was on the line, he was vintage.
"He got out of it, didn't he?" manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's who he is. He wants to be there. That's what a No. 1 does."
Manuel said Halladay was just a victim of a typical summer game.
"It's hot and [Washington] was swinging," Manuel said. "This is hitting season. [Halladay] gutted it out. Teams get up for Roy, which is good because he likes that. That's part of competing, being who he is, wanting to be a champion, being a champion.
"Some days you are going to get hit, but I'll say he passed the test again."
The strikeout of Werth for the final out was the glamour moment of the seventh for Halladay. But the key play was his fielding of the grounder by Ankiel.
If that ball slips by him, the score probably gets tied.
"First and third with nobody out, you're just trying to make pitches and hope something good happens," Halladay said. "If [the ball] is right at one of the fielders or right at me, we have a chance to at least hold the runner at third if not get him out.
"It was fortunate. A lot of balls during the game weren't hit where we wanted them, but I got one when I need it right back at me.
"You take the runner off third. You have them at first and second, you still have a chance to get a doubleplay. There are a number of ways to get out of it."
Halladay has a number of ways to get wins. His lunch-bucket efforts are just as good as his Tiffany's specials.
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