MIAMI - The two longest-tenured players in the visiting clubhouse at Marlins Park toasted Roy Halladay with a magnum-sized champagne bottle that included a congratulatory inscription and photos of the pitcher, too.
After Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley were through, the soft-spoken Halladay had a chance to talk but stayed in character. He smiled, thanked them and said he'd rather have a World Series than a celebration for his 200th career win.
"The personal milestones are great," Halladay said on Sunday, when he threw eight sharp innings in a 2-1 win over the Miami Marlins. "My sons, my wife, my family - they are all excited about it. But the ultimate goal is to get to the playoffs and win a World Series, and when that happens I'm going to go in the back room and yell."
Even if he didn't give into one, Halladay probably earned himself a good yell after throwing a gem on the heels of two disastrous starts to begin 2013.
Halladay's first win of the season - buoyed by a solo, pinch-hit, go-ahead home run by Laynce Nix in the top of the ninth inning - allowed him to breathe easily for the first time this season.
"I think more than anything that I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself," he said. "My plan the whole week was to worry about the game and not worry about what was going on internally. I felt like that made a big difference."
If his career goal is to be reached this season - competing in his first World Series - Halladay knows he'll have to pitch a lot more like he did on Sunday and not at all like he did 2 weeks ago in Atlanta and last week against the Mets. In his first two starts, Halladay gave up 12 runs on 12 hits. He didn't record an out in the fifth inning of either start, uncharacteristically getting knocked out early in consecutive starts.
Halladay took the mound on Sunday a month away from his 36th birthday and carrying a 14.73 ERA. Among the 156 pitchers who had started big-league games, his ERA ranked 154th.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner was coming off his worst season in a decade and appeared to be at a career crossroads after a worrisome spring training was followed by two shaky starts.
But then Halladay returned to the city in which he pitched his perfect game and found himself, at least for one afternoon.
"That was classic Roy," Ryan Howard said. "He looked like himself out there today. The ball was sinking and cutting. He got himself into a couple of situations and got out of it."
Matched against a Marlins team that had scored 16 runs in its first nine games and had Placido Polanco and Greg Dobbs batting third and fourth in the order, Halladay worked a 1-2-3 first inning and threw zeroes in the next three frames, too, despite allowing hits to begin each inning. Halladay was falling behind hitters, which had been his kryptonite in his first two starts, but he skated out of trouble. Sometime in the third or fourth inning, Halladay picked up momentum and began dictating at-bats, rather than the other way around.
"Really, from the third or fourth inning on, I was able to repeat, get ahead, get outs quick," said Halladay, who needed just 87 pitches to get through eight innings. "That had been my biggest problem. Getting behind, getting in hitters' counts. So I felt like mechanically we got things straightened out and I felt good, I felt like I was repeating my pitches. Later on I could throw any one of my pitches for strikes when I wanted to, so that, to me, was the biggest difference over the last two starts."
Halladay breezed through six shutout innings and had retired 10 straight when Dobbs flew out to begin the seventh. The Marlins scored their only run later in the inning, when Chris Valaika punched a ground ball just out of the reach of shortstop Freddy Galvis.
The base hit tied the game, since the Phils once again struggled to muster much offense in Miami. They had 12 hits but left 10 runners on base. In the sixth, Howard doubled and Michael Young followed with a single to account for the Phillies' only run in the game's first eight innings.
But with one out in the ninth, manager Charlie Manuel sent Nix to the plate to hit for Halladay. Nix eyed up a 1-1 fastball from Jon Rauch and deposited it into the rightfield second deck to give the Phils the lead.
"I don't think I've faced Rauch too many times . . . He just gave me a good pitch to hit right there," Nix said of the hit that made Halladay the pitcher of record when the Phils took the lead. "That's really cool for me to be a part of that. I've been on lots of losses when I've faced Doc. It's good to be on a positive side in one of these wins. This guy has been great his whole career and it's really cool to be a part of that."
Although he had just come out of the game, Halladay was already in the weight room working on his arm exercises when he heard the eruption from his teammates.
"I didn't want to screw anything up," Halladay said of opting to work out rather than watch the last inning in the dugout. "The TVs in here are delayed, so we heard everyone else yelling from the other room. I saw it, and it was pretty cool."
Jonathan Papelbon collected his third save to seal the Phils' second straight series win.
On Friday, the Phillies will be back at Citizens Bank Park to face St. Louis, and Halladay will get the opportunity to prove that Sunday was a case of regaining his ace-like form and not of facing a bad Marlins team.
Not that Halladay feels like he has to prove anything to anybody.
"There are a lot of things you can't control," he said of his struggles. "And for some reason I felt like I had to control those things. I've never been that way, and for some reason coming in I felt like I had to prove that I was healthy. I had to prove that I was effective.
"There were a lot of things that I had no control over, but were getting in the way of going out and making pitches. Really, my focus this whole week was, 'What's my job? How can I help us? How can I do my job effectively and not get caught up with everything else going on?' "
Halladay's laser focus returned in Miami.