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'What a horse!': Revisiting Halladay's perfecto

New book looks back at the life and career of the Hall of Famer
@ToddZolecki
May 29, 2020

In the new book “Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay,” MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki details everything from Halladay’s hard-driven adolescence to his Hall of Fame career to the struggles that led to his tragic death in 2017. In this excerpt from the chapter about Halladay’s perfect game on May 29, 2010,

In the new book “Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay,” MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki details everything from Halladay’s hard-driven adolescence to his Hall of Fame career to the struggles that led to his tragic death in 2017. In this excerpt from the chapter about Halladay’s perfect game on May 29, 2010, Zolecki takes readers from the final out to the celebration in the visitors’ clubhouse.

This excerpt from Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay by Todd Zolecki is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/DocPhillies.

Excerpt: A window inside Halladay's pitching mind

[Phillies third baseman Juan] Castro removed his glove as [Ronny] Paulino walked to the plate. He looked at the scoreboard and saw zeros.

“My hands started sweating,” he said. “That’s about the only time I was a little nervous playing defense. But I remember -- I have to change my mentality, I have to change my mind. So I remember I grabbed some dirt, put my glove back on, and said, ‘Hit it over here.’”

Paulino fouled off a first-pitch sinker and took a changeup for a ball to even the count at 1-1. He fouled off a second changeup for strike two. Halladay got the sign from Chooch [Carlos Ruiz]. He wanted a curveball. Halladay started his windup for his 115th pitch of the night. He threw it. Paulino swung and hit the ball toward the hole between shortstop and third. Castro broke to his left.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” he said. “My first reaction is I’ve got to get to the ball, I’ve got to catch it, I’ve got to catch it first.”

He caught it. Now he needed to make a strong throw. As his momentum carried him toward second base, he knew he could make a strong throw if he spun.

“You learn how to catch a ball there and turn,” he said. “As you get older and become a professional you start learning with your coaches that the easiest way -- depending on the situation and the ground ball -- is going that way to my left and throwing that way. It’s kind of hard to stop and put my feet in the right position. So it’s easier for me to turn around because it was a ball in the hole. If it was close I could have set my feet, but because I had to stretch for the ball I could control my body more, spin, and throw to first rather than try to go the opposite way.”

Halladay turned his body and followed the play. He spent the past nine years following Harvey Dorfman’s mantra that a pitcher only controls the ball until the moment it leaves his hand. After that, anything can happen. The ball left Castro’s hand. Halladay’s eyes followed it the entire way. It hit [Ryan] Howard’s glove. He squeezed it.

Game over.

Perfection.

Halladay punched his right hand into his glove. He smiled, opened his arms, and embraced Ruiz, who sprinted to meet him. Howard and Castro joined. Everybody else did too.

[Raul] Ibañez ran into the scrum from left field.

“I remember running -- not running alongside [Shane] Victorino because he was too fast -- but running toward the pile and feeling like I was 10 years old,” he said. “Just running toward the mound feeling like I was 10 years old for a game in May. And I remember just feeling like we won the World Series because it happened for him and he deserved it. Because of the intensity, the focus, the preparation, the execution. He was everything that was right about the game of baseball.”

“As I saw Howard catch the ball, I felt like something left my body,” Castro said. “Yeah! A lot of people ask me what I was feeling. Sometimes you’ve got to be there to feel it. But for me it was a big accomplishment and I was happy to be able to contribute to something. After the third out, it was that relief like, ‘Yes, I helped! Yes, he did it! Yes, we did it!’ I felt like a kid afterward. I have people send me that video a lot. It’ll be there forever. It’s good, you know why? At some point I’m not going to be on this Earth and maybe the sons of my sons will be watching that and say, ‘That’s my grandpa.’”

Brandy [Halladay] and the boys celebrated back home.

“I can’t believe I just saw this,” she said. “It was the 20th time in history you’ve seen that. That was the 20th time. It was the first one I’d seen. It was so cool. I didn’t really even understand how amazing it was until after. You don’t really think about, ‘Hey, I really want to throw a perfect game someday.’ That’s no human's goal ever. Nobody. Fewer people have thrown perfect games than have been in the Hall of Fame, and we know how rare that is. It really was special and exciting.”

Howard tapped Halladay’s chest a few times to get his attention. He had the ball in his glove and he wanted him to have it. Halladay did not notice. He was lost in the moment. Imagine that. Halladay finally turned to Howard, who stuck the ball in his glove. They smiled and embraced again. [Ruben] Amaro bawled and hugged his brother in the stands. He made his way into the visitors’ clubhouse. He saw Ruiz.

“¡Que clase de caballo!” Chooch shouted. “¡Que clase de caballo! ¡Este de verdad es un caballo!”

What a horse! What a horse! This is really a horse!

Phillies’ broadcaster Gary Matthews interviewed Halladay on the field. The ballpark’s lights turned off. Fireworks shot into the air. The concert started. Halladay returned to the clubhouse.

“Speech! Speech!” a few players yelled.

Halladay walked over to Ruiz and pointed.

“Chooch is the man,” Halladay said, still smiling.

“He smiled!” Victorino yelled.

Everybody laughed and cheered.

“I followed him the whole time,” Halladay said, talking over the laughter and applause. “I swear to God, so…”

He threw up his arms.

“I don’t know what else to say,” he said.

He pointed again at Chooch, mumbled something, and walked away.

Halladay began his post-start arm care. He held a press conference after that.

“Like clockwork, bro,” Victorino said. “Typical Doc. Postwork was him being the best him.”

“If he didn’t do that stuff, days like that wouldn’t happen,” Brandy said. “That’s why they happened. Because he was so diligent in his workouts. You don’t do that so you can win. You do that so you’re prepared for whatever happens. He wasn’t going to be prepared for that if he hadn’t done that work the day before or the day before that or the day before that. So that side of him never changed, that workout. They say he was maniacal about it. You did your job and that’s what you did.”

The Marlins dug up the pitcher’s rubber so Halladay could have it. Vice President Joe Biden called to congratulate him. Eventually, Halladay spoke to Brandy, Braden, and Ryan on the phone.

“You’re the 20th pitcher ever to throw a perfect game!” Braden screamed.

Halladay cracked up.

“He obviously was paying attention to what they said on TV,” he said.

[Pitching coach Rich] Dubee asked Doc later why he threw Paulino back-to-back changeups. It was his fourth-best pitch and he threw it twice in the final at-bat to lock down a perfect game.

“I’m a big believer that if you’re going to get beat, you get beat with your best stuff,” Dubee said. “He said, ‘Listen, I really felt like at that time it was the best pitch for me to throw to him. I knew if I executed it the way I can, he was out.’ And that was the commitment he had to every pitch he threw.”

Halladay boarded the bus back to the team’s hotel at 10:45 p.m. He returned to the ballpark at 8:45 a.m. the next day. He had work to do.

“I had two or three [games] where I had gotten in the eighth or ninth inning with no-hitters,” Halladay said. “I’d finally gotten to the mentality of, ‘It’s not going to happen so quit worrying about it.’ And I couldn’t care less if I threw one or not. I figured it wasn’t going to happen anyway. So, once it did, it was like, ‘Huh, that’s interesting.’ And I tell everybody, it’s kind of funny that you have this perfect game and you celebrate on the field, you go in the clubhouse, and then it’s like, ‘Now what?’ Because it’s so fun being on the field and competing that there’s nothing else that can compare to that. After the game, it was almost like, not a letdown, but the climax and the excitement was during the game. After the game was over, it was gone. It was gone. So, it was easy for me to move on from that, but that was a strange experience for me because I thought this would be something that would stick with you and it really, after that game was over, was like, ‘I just want to go home and sleep.’”

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .