Roy Halladay throws a pitch during the Phillies' 1-0 Game 5 loss in the 2011 NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals. (AP)
Rafael Furcal tripled to the gap in right-center at Citizens Bank Park and came around to score on a Skip Schumaker double. It put the Cardinals up 1-0 over the Phillies in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS.
It was the only run Roy Halladay gave up that cold, miserable October night. And it was the last postseason run he’d ever allow.
The man who threw a no-hitter in his first-ever playoff start deserved a better baseball fate. When he pushed for a trade to the Phillies prior to the 2010 season, he did so with the intent of not just making the playoffs but winning a World Series. The game’s ultimate competitor wanted the game’s ultimate honor.
His team’s offense failed him.
Halladay never won that World Series. He threw nearly 40,000 pitches over a 16-year major-league career, but when he retired Monday he left behind only five playoff starts.
"I always knew how tough it was to win a World Series, especially being in the AL East, it's not an easy thing to do. Going to Philadelphia I feel like we really gave ourselves the best chance,” Halladay said at his retirement press conference Monday afternoon in Orlando.
“Being involved in those playoffs was probably some of the most memorable experiences I'll have in baseball. From a camaraderie standpoint to being in that atmosphere, playing in the playoffs, and I think the one thing I took away from that is you can have the best team on paper, you can have the guys who want it most, but when the squirrel runs across home plate while your team is trying to pitch there's nothing you can do about that.”
That damn squirrel.
What the Cardinals used as playoff motivation -- they dubbed it “Rally Squirrel” -- the Phillies and their fans will forever remember as a sign of what could have been. During the fifth inning of Game 4 of that series, the squirrel dashed past home plate as Roy Oswalt delivered a pitch to Schumaker. Oswalt wanted the pitch not to count, but it was called a ball. It didn’t directly impact the game or the series, but it’s a bad memory from a season that should have been so much more.
"To be so close to moving on and having that ultimate goal of winning a World Series, that was hard to overcome," Halladay said of that Game 5 loss in a one-on-one interview with CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury (see video). "That was very tough to swallow. I know the fans and the organization felt the same way. I'm proud of the effort, but at the same time it's hard to walk away knowing that the results didn't go in your direction. Like I said, that night, it was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had to pitch in a game like that, to go up against an old friend (Chris Carpenter), to go out there with the best teammates that I've ever had. It was not an ideal way to end it, but to have that opportunity was unbelievable. After a game like that, it takes a lot out of you."
The Phillies were indeed the “best team on paper,” as Halladay implied. They won a franchise-record 102 games. They outscored their opponents by 184 runs, more than 100 better than any other NL team.
But playoff baseball is a crapshoot. The best team doesn’t always win. Actually, the best team rarely wins.
“You really start to realize there's a lot of things out of your control and it takes more than nine guys,” Halladay said. “It takes nine guys, it takes the 25 on the roster, it takes the coaches, and it takes a lot of luck. I'm very fortunate that I had a chance to get to the playoffs and to experience that atmosphere.
“… It's something I definitely wanted, but I think having the chance to have been in the playoffs, to experience the atmosphere, I am more comfortable knowing I came up a little short than never having that shot. I'm very grateful to have that opportunity and especially to have it with the Phillies and the guys that we had on that team. Those are memories I'll never forget.”
Halladay plans to spend his post-baseball days coaching his sons. He may play a little 35-and-over basketball, too (see story).
But he did leave the door open for a potential return to baseball, perhaps in a coaching capacity.
“I've always wanted to win a World Series,” he said, “and hopefully down the road I can be a part of it in a different aspect.”