LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Roy Halladay pitched in 416 major leagues games over the course of a 16-year career that included winning two Cy Young Awards and making eight All-Star Game trips. He authored one of the 23 perfect games in baseball history and one of just two postseason no-hitters in the sport.
But as he reminisced on his career yesterday, with friends, family and former employers listening in, the only game Halladay referred to was a random 7-6 win in Detroit as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays on June 2, 2002.
"I gave up [six] runs, but I pitched eight innings and was able to pick up a win," Halladay said. "To me that really stood out. That's a game where you don't give up. You continue to grind. You continue to battle. You continue to work."
If the 2002 season was when a 25-year Halladay matured into one of baseball's top starting pitchers, the 2012 and 2013 seasons were when he had to fight against his baseball mortality. Halladay continued to grind, continued to battle and continued to work.
But his well-worn body betrayed him and forced him to face reality in the last 2 months.
The 36-year-old Halladay, arguably the most dominant starting pitcher in baseball for a decade, announced his retirement at Walt Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Resort yesterday, the first day of the winter meetings.
"Baseball has been so great to me," Halladay said. "My goal is to try and leave baseball better than what I found it, and I've tried to do that in my career. I've tried to be respectful to the game and do things the right way. I've tried to do that to the best of my ability, and moving forward, I'd like to do the same."
Halladay filed for free agency for the first time in his career 2 months ago. But after back and shoulder injuries prevented him from pitching to his capability in the last two seasons, and with more surgery necessary to repair his back, Halladay knew it was time to step away from a game he fell in love with as a kid in Colorado a quarter century ago.
"I've been throwing to my boys, and my shoulder feels as good as it ever has," Halladay said. "Unfortunately, I can't get them out, but it feels good."
But Halladay said he has two pars fractures in his back, along with an eroded disk and pinched nerves, too.
"It made it hard to pitch with the mechanics I want to pitch with," Halladay said.
Halladay officially retired as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, the team that drafted him with the 17th overall pick in 1995. He spent 12 of his 16 big-league seasons with Toronto.
Halladay arrived in Philadelphia four winters ago, in December of 2009. He waived a no-trade clause and accepted a 4-year, $60 million contract extension to join the Phillies, ignoring the lure of free agency and the opportunity to strike it rich a year later.
He managed to live up to lofty expectations.
Halladay threw a perfect game in his 11th start in a Phillies uniform on a muggy, May Saturday night in Miami. Four months later, he embraced catcher Carlos Ruiz again after no-hitting the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Halladay won his second Cy Young Award that year; he's one of five pitchers to win the award in both the National and American leagues. He was the runner-up for the award in his second season in Philadelphia in 2011, when the Phillies won 102 games.
Halladay was 40-16 with 17 complete games in his first two seasons with the Phillies. It was the end of a remarkable, decadelong dominance by the righthander.
From 2001 to 2011, Halladay was 175-78 with a 2.98 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 64 complete games and 19 shutouts in 321 games. No one in the game matched his consistence, excellence and durability over that time period.
A former top prospect who made it to the major leagues only to be sent all the way back to A-ball to reboot his career, Halladay was lauded for the tireless work ethic and steely-eyed competitiveness that defined him as an athlete.
Halladay's run of excellence first started to slow in 2012: he was placed on the disabled list with a lat strain 2 months into the season. He continued to battle back and shoulder pain until giving in and undergoing shoulder surgery a day after his 36th birthday in May.
Halladay had a 3.23 ERA in his first 14 seasons. In his last two, he had a 5.15 ERA.
He clearly was not himself.
"It was tough," Halladay said. "It is so much fun to play the game and to go out and compete. I look forward to that fifth day more than anything. To be able to go out there and know that it's probably not going to feel very good and I'm not going to be able to do things the way I want to do them was very frustrating . . . You're trying to give everything you can, but there is something holding you back . . . That was a major factor in why we decided this was the right time is because I want to be able to give everything to myself that I can. I felt like this was a point where I really couldn't do that anymore. I couldn't give them what I wanted to. So from that standpoint, we knew it was the right time."
Halladay's career ends without his career goal fulfilled. When he arrived in Philadelphia, joining a team that had played in each of the last two World Series, Halladay said he wasn't intrigued by free agency because he wanted to pitch in a World Series.
He felt the Phillies, with a talent-rich, veteran core, afforded him the best opportunity to turn his October dreams into a reality.
The Phillies had the most wins in baseball in each of Halladay's first two seasons with the team. But regular-season success didn't translate into the postseason.
The Phillies were two wins away from advancing to their third straight World Series in 2010, when they were dispatched by the soon-to-be world champion Giants. In 2012, Halladay squared off with close friend Chris Carpenter in a winner-takes-all Game 5 of the NLDS at Citizens Bank Park and the soon-to-be-world champion Cardinals eked out a 1-0 win.
Halladay, who plans to help coach his sons' teams for the time being, didn't rule out a return to baseball.
"I've always wanted to win a World Series," Halladay said. "You know, hopefully down the road I can be a part of it in a different aspect. But it's something I definitely wanted, but I think having the chance to be in the playoffs to experience the atmosphere, I am more comfortable knowing I came up a little bit short than having never gotten that shot."
After a dozen years in Toronto, Halladay arrived in Philadelphia at the height of Citizens Bank Park's place as one of the most electrifying venues in baseball. He played a large part in keeping the pulse alive in the ballpark.
Halladay may have retired as a Blue Jay, but he'll always have a place with a Phillies team that brought him in and became overwhelmed with his professionalism, talent and tenacity.
"Roy the person and Roy the warrior," team president David Montgomery said of what he'd remember most about the pitcher.
Harry Leroy Halladay was 203-105 with a 3.38 ERA in 16 seasons. He threw a perfect game, 19 other shutouts and 67 total complete games.