Roy Halladay is hurting.
Maybe not physically.
But definitely mentally and emotionally.
That much was clear after the one-time “Best Pitcher in Baseball” absorbed another beating, this time in a 7-2 loss to the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night (see Instant Replay).
To get a read on just how much of a toll his struggles have taken on him, you have to know this about Halladay: He is an intensely private man, who seldom offers a look into the personal side of his life. In his dealings with reporters, he prefers to keep things “on the field,” as they say.
But after failing to get an out in the fifth inning and seeing his ERA rise to an unsightly 14.73, Halladay briefly took reporters to a hidden place. He revealed that he received a text from his oldest son, 12-year-old Braden, moments after the game ended.
“I got a text from my son saying I am his hero,” Halladay said. “It meant a lot.”
For a brief second, it appeared as if Halladay was going to become emotional, but he caught himself and continued answering questions about what has gone wrong with him, the Phillies' pitching staff and this team that has gotten off to such a disappointing 2-5 start that Citizens Bank Park, once the place to be for Philadelphia sports fans, seems lifeless. Monday night’s crowd of 35,393 was the smallest since April 2009.
Halladay has had a major hand in the poor start, losing both his starts. He has lasted just 3 1/3 innings and four-plus in the two starts, while allowing 12 hits, 12 runs, three homers and six walks. Halladay, who once had the control of a surgeon, has struggled since spring training to command his pitches, forcing high pitch counts and resulting in hard-hit balls and early exits.
He’s a proud man and this is tough on him.
“It’s tough because you care about the game, you care about your teammates, you care about the fans, you care about the organization,” said Halladay, who turns 36 next month. “You want it badly. Unfortunately, when you go out there everybody’s watching you. You’re not doing it in front of five people that don’t care. Everybody out there cares and everybody wants it and you want it just as much as they do, so that makes it tough.”
Halladay said 95 percent of his problems are mental. In sporting parlance, he is pressing. He says he’s trying too hard to put the ball in good places and it’s all coming unraveled from there.
“That’s the hardest thing to force,” he said of command. “When you try to force a ball to a spot instead of just letting it go there … The more you force it the more it goes away from there. You need to be tension-free instead of forcing your will on what you want to happen.”
Halladay said his command is fine in the bullpen. He said he’s having trouble taking it into games.
Again, he offered a glimpse into the personal side of his life when he spoke of his mentor, the late sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman.
“Harvey used to tell me when you try to catch a bird if you’re flailing at it trying to grab for it you’re never going to catch it,” Halladay said. “You have to hold your hands out and let it land in your hands. It’s the same way with pitching. You have to stick to your routine, stick to your program and let it come to you.”
Time will tell if it indeed comes back to Halladay.
For what it’s worth, the Mets noticed a difference in him Monday night.
“That’s not Doc,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “That’s not the guy we know, for sure.”
Halladay threw 99 pitches in four-plus innings. He needed nine pitches to put away the opposing pitcher, Matt Harvey, in the fourth inning. The old Halladay used to breeze through opposing pitchers.
“I wasn’t able to make the pitches I wanted,” he said. “Instead of trusting it, I was forcing it and guiding it.”
Said Manager Charlie Manuel: “I think what you’re watching is a pitcher who is trying to find his strike zone and how he used to carve up hitters with command and control.”
The fastball (sinkers and cutters) used to be Halladay’s weapon of mass destruction. Now, hitters tee off on it. In the second inning, Halladay allowed a one-out double to Marlon Byrd on a cutter. He then hit Lucas Duda with a cutter before allowing a three-run homer to John Buck on another cutter.
The Phillies never recovered from Buck’s big blow. Their starting pitcher did not keep them in the game -- nothing new considering Halladay and Cole Hamels are a combined 0-4 with 12.50 ERA -- and the bullpen, namely struggling Chad Durbin, did not keep it close.
Seven games into the season, the Phillies have a team ERA of 7.08. That will lose you some ball games.
Halladay addressed one mini-controversy, saying that Erik Kratz and Humberto Quintero, the catchers who are filling in for Carlos Ruiz, have nothing to do with the pitching problems.
“We have to execute pitches,” Halladay said. “I don’t think that falls on the catchers.”
If the Phillies have a pitching problem -- as they do -- it starts with the men on the mound and Monday night it started with Roy Halladay. Again.
“This is a game of failure and I’ve had my fair share,” he said. “Some days you’re a horse and some days you’re a horse’s ass. I’ve been a horse’s ass for a little while. It’s something I’ve dealt with in the past and I think I can overcome.”