The first instinct was to react as fans. It was the bottom of first inning and the Phillies were down 3-0 and Roy Halladay had just issued his third walk of the frame. The crowd at Citizens Bank Park had already watched a 22-year-old right fielder smack a bases loaded double off the top of the left field wall, and as Miguel Olivo stepped into the batter's box, a smattering of boos emerged from the sun-soaked stands. But then the human reaction kicked in, and the boos were overwhelmed by a strong swell of applause.
Perhaps they remembered the vast amount of good that Halladay had delivered to the fan base after the trade that delivered him from Toronto. Maybe they realized that greatness demands a certain level respect. More than likely, they understood what they were witnessing, and rather than sit with their stomachs in knots, they channeled their angst into one last desperate show of support. It was less of a cheer and more of a plea. You are still Roy Halladay, it said.
Olivo popped out and Adeiny Hechavarria fouled off strike two, and now the aging veteran was one pitch away from escaping the inning. The crowd crescendoed, and Halladay eased himself into action: plant, wind, deliver. . .
The line drive screamed into the alley in right center field and bounced on a vacant patch of grass before skittering to the wall. One run scored, then another. By the time the ball returned to the infield, a 24-year-old utility man with a .169 average was standing on third base with a triple that gave the 9-22 Marlins a 5-0 lead.
With that, the Phillies reached their first major plot point of the 2013 season. Halladay's outing lasted nine more batters, but by the end of the first inning everybody had to know that the time for a decision had arrived. The Marlins scored four more runs in the third inning before Charlie Manuel finally stopped the fight. Halladay trudged toward the dugout having thrown just 35 of his 65 pitches for strikes. He hit two batters with pitches and threw a fastball behind a third. He allowed a grand slam to Hechavarria and issued four walks. Seven starts into the season, Halladay has the highest ERA in baseball.
Nobody seems to know what, exactly, is wrong with Roy Halladay, but the only thing that matters right now is that it makes no sense for the Phillies to allow it to continue. Sending him back out for another start is no good for anybody, first and foremost for the man himself. He has meant too much to the fans, to his teammates, to the sport of baseball to continue subjecting himself to the kind of pounding that he has received at the hands of the Marlins and the Indians over the last week. Chances are, Halladay will not agree with that assessment. Which is why the Phillies must take the initiative and take the ball from his hands. He is a proud man, yes. But he is driven more by a sense of duty, and an appeal to that sense is what Manuel, Rich Dubee, and Ruben Amaro Jr. must make.
As hard as it is to admit -- and none of us feels good doing so -- the Phillies are not a better team with Halladay on the mound right now. And the only hope that they might become that better team is for Halladay to take some time to figure out whatever needs figuring. There is no easy answer. Placing him on the disabled list would limit his ability to face batters in competitive situations. Sending him to the minors would require consent on his part, and a set of brass you-know-whats on whoever attempts to ask him for it.
But something needs to be done, because two or three months of a fresh, effective Halladay is more valuable than four or five months of the guy who we have seen thus far. You wouldn't be human if it didn't hurt a bit to write that sentence. But they do not take feelings into consideration when they dole out playoff spots. And if the situation makes those of us outside the clubhouse feel a bit awkward, think about how it feels for his teammates to watch him struggle like he has. This lineup has enough problems stringing together runs when it isn't emotionally deflated.
The conversation that should take place over the next 48 hours is not a comfortable one for any of its participants. But it is a conversation that needs to be had.