ATLANTA - My only hope is that all of the people who will never read this column spent their final hours cradled in the arms of somebody they loved, thinking back on all of the good times, dwelling on the fulfillment that this world offered them and the rest of mankind during its brief but wondrous existence. I am tempted to leave it at that in order to maximize whatever time left I have to drink beer, but on the off chance that the sun does rise Thursday, and these words do appear in print, and life as we know it does not soon end in a fiery blaze precipitated by the events that unfolded in the fifth inning of Wednesday night's game between the Phillies and the Braves, I suppose a thorough recounting is in order.
The pitch that may or may not have reduced Earth to a smoldering pile of rubble was a Roy Halladay cutter that did not act as a Roy Halladay cutter tends to do, which is to leave a hitter with such a poor angle that he either swings and misses or knocks it feebly into play. This particular cutter traveled straight into the swing path of Brian McCann, who hit the ball with such authority you swore you could see it wince as it soared toward the rightfield seats.
"I think he was looking inner half - we had gone in there a little earlier, and if we get it in there, I still think we have a chance to get him out," Halladay said later. "I think he was looking inner half and I basically left it middle-third/inner, and that's a bad combination."
This was not the first home run surrendered by Halladay in his illustrious career. It wasn't the first lead he had blown. It wasn't even the first six-run lead he had blown. Still, the first time you personally witness Halladay walk onto a mound with a 6-0 lead and walk off it with the score tied, you can't help but wait for the Earth to shake. The Phillies were just five innings away from their first day above .500 since Opening Day, and their shutdown ace had thrown just 48 pitches, and the opponent was a Braves team that had spent much of the previous year inventing ways to lose division games.
"He's human," Charlie Manuel said after it was over and the Braves streamed out of their dugout to celebrate the two-run, walkoff home run by Chipper Jones in the 11th inning that dealt the Phillies a wild, 15-13 loss.
That's about as thorough an examination as Halladay's outing required. He's human. It happens. As he gets older, he will become more human, but for all of the talk about the velocity on his sinker and his diminished strikeout rate, Halladay still entered the night having held opponents to eight runs in 37 innings over five starts this season.
"Really, I felt good," said Halladay, who repeated that phrase several more times as he debriefed his performance.
The Braves did not exactly batter Halladay into oblivion. The first three batters of the fifth inning reached base via singles. Next came a pop out, then two more singles, both of which pushed runs home and left the bases loaded. After getting Freddie Freeman to pop out for the second out, Halladay could see daylight. Four pitches later, the last of them the 2-1 cutter that McCann obliterated for a grand slam, the game was tied at 6-6.
Halladay allowed two more runs in the sixth before leaving the game, his eight runs in 5 1/3 innings marking his worst statistical performance since May 2007. But was the outing any more disconcerting than the one he turned in against the Red Sox on May 23 of 2010, when he struck out one batter and allowed seven runs in 5 2/3 innings?
The more important concern for the Phillies is a bullpen that squandered a 12-8 lead it was called on to protect in the eighth. With setup man Chad Qualls unavailable, Jose Contreras and Michael Schwimer combined to allow five runs, although a fielding error by Jimmy Rollins did not help. Jonathan Papelbon was available but never pitched, a decision Manuel will always defend when the score is tied on the road. Whether or not you agree on that issue, the bigger focal point is the arms in front of the $50 million closer. The Phillies have blown eighth-inning leads in two of their last three games. That could prove to be a brief hiccup. Or it could prove to be a sign of a troubled future.
Assuming, of course, that there is any future at all.