Halladay never got World Series he deserved

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Halladay never got World Series he deserved

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.”

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

BOX SCORE

The moment when the ball struck first baseman Tommy Joseph’s glove for the final out of the Phillies 10-8 win over the Mets — dealing a major blow to their rival’s wild card hopes in the process — felt more like a collective exhalation than a moment of celebration (see Instant Replay).
 
Two days earlier, the bullpen faltered suddenly. A game-tying two-run homer by Jose Reyes in the ninth was the first body blow. The game-winning three-run homer by Asdrubal Cabrera was the knockout.
 
Saturday, the collapse occurred over the course of five innings as the Phillies let a lead that was once 10-0 slip away, one drawn-out at-bat after another.
 
Missing, of course, was the moment of impact in the proverbial slow-motion car crash, thanks to well-placed sinkers and four-seamers from Michael Mariot.
 
“The bullpen’s been sputtering,” manager Pete Mackanin said in an understatement.
 
Joely Rodriguez entered in the sixth inning with a 10-4 lead to face a string of lefties and it quickly became apparent that he did not have his fastball. A middle-in four-seamer that caught too much of the plate was slapped for a double by Mets shortstop Gavin Cecchini, his first major-league hit and a run. A second run scored when a little dribbler by third baseman T.J. Rivera died on the third base line, leaving Rodriguez with no play.
 
“He just didn’t throw quality strikes,” Mackanin said.
 
Even the normally-reliable Hector Neris struggled on Saturday. In his 77th outing of the season, Neris walked two straight batters and then surrendered an RBI double to Cecchini of his own which narrowed the lead to 10-7 and thrust the uncertainty of a save situation onto Mackanin.
 
Mariot was given first crack at the ninth inning one day after Mackanin said he would give Jeanmar Gomez a break from closing duties.
 
Mariot’s audition got off to a rough start. He gave up a pinch-hit solo home run to Jay Bruce — who had been mired in an 0-15 slump — with one out in the ninth and then walked Eric Campbell and Michael Conforto after a pair of grueling at-bats that lasted a combined 18 pitches.
 
The two hitters fouled off eight of Mariot’s pitches and took several four-seamers that just missed the plate.
 
“I was pretty upset about that,” Mariot said of the four-seamers that missed. “I was hoping to get at least a swing or maybe a call on those. Talking to [catcher] A.J. [Ellis], I think he said that they missed but I was hoping at least one of them to get called a strike.”
 
Gomez was up in the Phillies’ bullpen but Mariot ensured that Mackanin wouldn’t need to throw the recently-struggling closer back into the fire in a high-stress situation.
 
Mariot was able to locate his fastball when he needed to most. He fooled Lucas Duda with a two-seamer that the slugger popped out to Freddy Galvis and got Travis D’Arnaud to ground a four-seamer outside right back to him.
 
“I just told myself: ‘keep throwing strikes and good things will happen,’” Mariot said.
 
He threw just enough strikes to ensure that the Phillies didn’t end up on the wrong end of what would have been the Mets’ biggest comeback in team history.

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Best of MLB: Nationals clinch NL East with win over Pirates

Best of MLB: Nationals clinch NL East with win over Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- The Washington Nationals clinched their third National League East title in five years, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 Saturday night behind 5 1/3 scoreless innings from rookie reliever Reynaldo Lopez.

Stephen Drew's two-run single capped a three-run first inning for the Nationals, who return to the postseason after a one-year absence. Their win ensured a playoff berth, and they won the division about 20 minutes later when the second-place New York Mets lost to Philadelphia.

Lopez (4-3) came on to the start the bottom of the fourth inning with a 6-1 lead and allowed three hits while striking out five and walking one. He was removed a runner on first and one out in the ninth inning.

Marc Rzepczynski and Blake Treinen got one out each to end the game, and a pocket of Nationals' fans behind the visiting dugout cheered (see full recap).

Cardinals solve Wrigley again, crush Hammel, Cubs 10-4
CHICAGO -- The St. Louis Cardinals have a lot to accomplish if they want to return to Chicago in two weeks for a rematch of last year's NL Division Series. They would have to qualify for one of the wild-card spots, then win the single-elimination playoff game.

If they do, the Cardinals may be the one club that won't be fazed by Wrigley Field and the Cubs.

Yadier Molina drove in four runs, Stephen Piscotty homered and the Cardinals boosted their playoff hopes by getting to Jason Hammel early in a 10-4 rout of Chicago on Saturday.

Randal Grichuk added three RBIs and Jhonny Peralta had three hits and scored three runs for the Cardinals, who stopped a two-game skid and moved into a tie with San Francisco for the final NL wild-card spot pending the Giants' game at San Diego (see full recap).

Yanks shut out for 3rd straight game in 3-0 loss to Jays
TORONTO -- The New York Yankees' offense has disappeared, and their playoffs chances have pretty much vanished, too.

Jose Bautista hit a three-run homer off Tyler Clippard in the eighth inning, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-0 Saturday.

New York has been shut out in three straight games for the first time July 27-28, 1975.

"Whatever we're doing right now, it's not working," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We just seem to have lost it the last few days."

The Yankees have lost 10 of 13 following a seven-game winning streak and dropped 4 1/2 games back for the AL's second wild card with eight games left. They likely will miss the playoffs for the third time in four years (see full recap).

Dietrich homers, Marlins end Braves' streak at 7 win
MIAMI -- Derek Dietrich hit a two-run homer to help the Miami Marlins end the Atlanta Braves' winning streak at seven games, winning 6-4 on Saturday night.

Dee Gordon had two hits, two walks and three stolen bases - one shy of tying the Marlins' single-game franchise high, which he has done on two separate occasions.

Atlanta's Freddie Freeman extended his hitting streak to 28 games in the first inning and has reached base in 44 straight. He also hit a solo home run in the sixth, his 32nd.

Brian Ellington (4-2) earned the win in relief and A.J. Ramos recorded his 39th save in 42 chances.

The Braves pulled within 5-4 on a wild pitch by Fernando Rodney in the seventh inning (see full recap).