TAMPA, Fla. - There is nothing theoretical about playoff expansion for the Phillies. No one understands that, or how precious the opportunities are, better than Roy Halladay.
He spent most of a brilliant career playing for a Toronto team that went to spring training every year with little or no chance of reaching the postseason. He came to the Phillies for a chance to change that, to compete on the biggest stage. Two years in a row, he got there. Two years in a row, a supposedly lesser team upset the Phillies and went on to win the World Series.
San Francisco tore up the Phillies' World Series tickets in the 2010 National League Championship Series. St. Louis, a wild-card team, beat Halladay, 1-0, in Game 5 of the NL division series last year.
"The last two years," Halladay said, "we've had teams that were playing better than they had at any other point during the season. I think that says a lot. Even in football, you look at the [New York] Giants. Some teams get on a roll late and get their way. Other teams can just power their way through it."
If the Phillies succeed in earning the top seed in the NL playoffs again this year, they would face the winner of the new one-game playoff between two wild-card teams. That team would have to use its best available pitchers in the playoff - a disadvantage - but it would also be riding the same momentum surge that carried the Cards and Giants to the last two titles.
You can love the extra wild-card or loathe it. But no one can defend the format baseball will use this year only. Because the extra playoff games were wedged into an already set postseason schedule, the lowest seed will host the No. 1 seed for the first two games of the division series. The top seed will then be home for Games 3 through 5, as needed.
So let's say the Phillies win 102 games again and have the NL's best record. And let's say the Cubs beat the Nationals in the wild-card playoff. The Phillies would have to fly to Chicago and play two games at Wrigley Field before a single pitch is thrown at Citizens Bank Park.
"It's tough," Halladay said. "Obviously, opening on the road is not ideal. It's nice to have one less travel day and still get three games at home. There's benefits to it, but there's also drawbacks. You go into a town and come out of there down, 2-0, that's not really a home field [advantage]."
The Phillies are privileged to see this from the perspective of a likely division winner. For many teams, that extra wild card represents a glimmer of postseason hope. While Halladay gets that the extra fan-interest is "good for baseball," the whole idea leaves him a little cold.
"For a team to play 162 games, and everything you go through during the season, to play one game to decide if you're going to the playoffs - that would be a tough pill to swallow," Halladay said. "You get a couple bad calls, a couple bad bounces, and all your work has gone to waste. So that one's a tough one for me."
He speaks from close and recent experience. Halladay threw a no-hitter in his long-delayed postseason debut, then went 1-1 against Tim Lincecum in the NLCS. Halladay earned a Game 1 win against the Cardinals, only to lose the decisive Game 5 because his teammates couldn't score a single run.
Now he's back at Square One of another long season. Halladay threw his first pitches past opposing hitters Sunday afternoon. They happened to be the A-list Yankees: Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, Ruth. Well, the Bambino was only there in spirit, but it made for a competitive two-inning appearance. Halladay struck out three and was tagged for a home run by Alex Rodriguez.
While there is some uncertainty again in the lineup - this year, Ryan Howard is the man returning at some undetermined point from an injury - Halladay and the rest of the rotation again provide a realistic chance to win every day.
Halladay had an interesting answer to the question of whether he expected to start on opening day in Pittsburgh.
"Honestly, it's never been a big deal to me," he said. "I've always wanted to be on a team that there could be a couple [candidates]. That's always what I've wanted to be a part of. If you're on a team and there's absolutely no question who's going to start opening day, it's going to be a long season."
It's long enough when you're winning. And now the postseason will be just a little longer, too. But that's OK. As far as Halladay and the Phillies were concerned, the past two postseasons were a little too short.
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