ROY HALLADAY was at Citizens Bank Park on Monday when he saw his phone buzz. He picked it up and read the incoming message.
"You're my hero," the text message read.
It was from one of his two sons and Roy Halladay was so impressed and inspired by it that he relayed the very personal, encouraging message to the press corps following the latest discouraging effort on the mound.
Following a 7-2 defeat to the New York Mets, a game that saw Halladay out before recording an out in the fifth inning, the 35-year-old pitcher said the 14.73 ERA he is sporting after two starts has nothing to do with his mechanics or his shoulder or his legs or his back.
"It's 95 percent mental," Halladay said.
After getting knocked out of his 2013 debut before completing the fourth inning in Atlanta 5 days earlier, Halladay's 99th and final pitch on Monday night against the Mets went for a single. It was the third straight hit the two-time Cy Young Award winner allowed to begin the fifth inning.
It brought manager Charlie Manuel to the mound, ending Halladay's night.
Halladay was charged with seven runs in four innings (he faced three batters in the fifth). He walked as many batters as he struck out - three apiece - and threw 40 of his 99 pitches outside the strike zone.
"I would say 95 percent is mental," Halladay said. "It's simplifying, it's getting to the basics. It's letting things happen and trying to force things. It's a game of failure and I've had my fair share. Some days you're a horse and some days you're a horse's ass and I've been a horse's ass for a little while. It's something that I've dealt a lot with in the past and I feel like I can overcome. The more you want it, the harder it is. You almost have to really back that off and put some perspective in the whole thing."
The text message from his son helped.
"That means a lot," Halladay said. "Those kinds of things mean a lot. Those are the kind of things that do help you relax, put things in perspective and get back to simplification."
With the season just 8 days old, it's easy to say that it's far too early in a 162-game season to panic about the state of the Phillies. It is early: There are 6 months of games remaining on the schedule.
But if you're reaching for any remaining threads of optimism after the Phillies' latest defeat - which sunk them to 2-5 - you would have to completely ignore the ominous tone that accompanies Halladay each time he takes the mound.
Once widely regarded as the best pitcher in the game, Halladay has barely resembled a shadow of his former self in 2013. From the last few spring training tuneups to his first two starts of the regular season, Halladay has struggled to do three things that made him a seven-time All-Star who entered the year with 199 career wins.
He's struggled to throw strikes, he's failed to fool hitters with his hard sinker and cutter combo and he's been unable to get anywhere close to deep into a game.
"I'm concerned. He says he's healthy, our doctors say he's healthy and I think he'll get better," Manuel said. "I'm hoping he'll get better, of course."
After a 1-2-3 first inning, Halladay and the Phillies were down 3-0 four batters into the second. Following a crushing, one-out double by former Phillie Marlon Byrd, Halladay hit Lucas Duda with a pitch and then served up a three-run home run to John Buck.
Halladay, who allowed 10 home runs in 233 2/3 innings in 2011, has given up three home runs in 7 1/3 innings in 2013.
Halladay, who pitched fewer than five innings one time in 65 starts in 2010 and 2011, when he succumbed to heat exhaustion at Wrigley Field in Chicago, has failed to finish a fifth inning in two starts in 2013.
For the first time in his 16-year career, Halladay has had back-to-back starts of allowing five or more runs while pitching four or fewer innings.
Halladay has thrown 39,625 pitches in 2,694 2/3 innings in his career. Five weeks from today, Halladay turns 36.
Halladay's mental preparation and physical exertion on the field brings to mind a pitching version of Chase Utley: always at max effort. Unless Halladay can find the same magic for his right arm that Utley has uncovered for his knees, you have to at least consider the possibility that he's nearing the end of his celebrated career.
In his first two starts of 2013, Halladay has looked like post-1985 Steve Carlton.
The best lefthander in Phillies history won 314 games and had a 3.04 ERA in his first 21 seasons with St. Louis and Philadelphia. But Carlton went 15-29 with a 5.72 ERA in the final three seasons of his career with the Phils, San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins.
Halladay is about 7 years younger than Carlton was when his career spiraled downward, but the numbers are not dissimilar otherwise. After winning 188 games with a 3.23 ERA in his first 14 big-league seasons, Halladay is 11-10 with a 4.95 ERA in 27 starts since the beginning of 2012.
"He's giving you everything he's got," Manuel said. "When you see somebody who works as hard as he does and gives you everything he's got, that's kind of tough to watch because I pull for him and I want him to do real good all the time."
Last season began with Halladay throwing eight shutout innings in Pittsburgh and sporting a 1.95 ERA through the season's first month. But 2013 got started with an uneasy effort in Atlanta and a hard-to-watch outing at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.
For Halladay, it ended with the oddest of sounds at a Philadelphia sporting event: golf claps. The applause was a muted one, and mostly, an awkward reception.
Halladay may have heard it. He may have appreciated the almost-polite gesture.
But his next goal is to tune everything out, including himself.
"If you can do cartwheels down the mound and throw strikes, do it. But I need to find that spot," Halladay said. "I think that's the problem; going into games I'm thinking, 'I gotta get ahead. I gotta get ahead. I gotta get ahead.' Ball one. Then I really gotta get ahead. It gets out of hand. It's really important to go out, take that pressure off and go for it. You throw ball one? You throw ball one. Let's go onto the next pitch and make a quality pitch. You keep mounting pressure on yourself and it doesn't work."