TORONTO - Roy Halladay’s homecoming was filled with sweetness, nostalgia, a touch of controversy and ultimately, another, ho-hum, complete-game victory.
Halladay’s 5-3 win Saturday over the Blue Jays was his 11th of the season but it will always be remembered by the pitcher and fans as a special moment.
As he stepped to the mound in his return to Toronto for the first time since being traded to Philadelphia, awash in the ovation from 44,078 fans, Halladay was the picture of stoicism. No smile. No wave. No tip of the cap.
It was typical of a man who rarely makes a public display of his emotions. “I predetermined I wasn’t,” he said after the game. “I appreciated (the standing ovation) but by the same token I didn’t want to go on these guys’ home field ... and be the centre of attention. I didn’t want to make a huge production of it. You’re trying to keep things normal.
“You’d love to stand there and wave your hand but (he paused) you’ve got a job to do.”
Few do that job better than Halladay; there was a home run by Jose Bautista but given a 4-3 lead in the seventh, he struck out the side and nine batters later was shaking hands.
But this one was different right from the start he admitted afterward.
It is 30 minutes to game time and a couple hundred fans are pressing toward the bullpen railing as Halladay stretches. On the Jays’ side, Carlos Villanueva prepares, and even family and friends haven’t shown up to watch.
Fans wearing Jose Bautista and Mike Schmidt and Chase Utley jerseys stand side by side discussing Doc’s merits. Consensus? Apparently he’s pretty good. So, no punch-ups. Makes a guy yearn for hockey season there’s so much love in the air.
“Lookin’ good,” yells a fan in a Toronto jersey as Halladay throws his first long-toss. Blackberry cameras are working overtime as picks up the resin bag to warm up to a smattering of applause. He doesn’t look up. He is in work mode as opposed to Friday when the Blue Jays organization arranged for him to take out the lineup card.
It was a classy move, orchestrated when Blue Jays vice-president, Howie Starkman, phoned Phillies’ president David Montgomery to suggest they’d like to acknowledge Halladay on a day he wasn’t pitching. As he stood at the plate a video played on the screen. Halladay doffed his hat, setting a record for the biggest, longest Halladay smile ever recorded. “The organization ... the fans here have been great. To come back for the first time and recognize me by taking the card out was a cool experience. I’ll never forget it,” he said Saturday.
Never a player to show emotion, Halladay admitted to moments of reflection this weekend. “I was just standing in the outfield (during batting practice) thinking about the first few years and how it all began. It was nice to remember ... and sometimes you forget how hard it was.”
These days he makes it look easy. Although yesterday, he wasn’t sure what to expect from himself, or the crowd. He was greeted by a standing ovation worthy of Jose Bautista when he trotted to the mound. A sign read: Welcome Home Doc. Be Gentle. “It was different,” he said. “I was definitely anxious warming up. You’re not sure how you’re going to react.”
Other than the home run to Bautista (and that came on a pitch Halladay described as “a good pitch ... where I wanted it) he gave Toronto hitters almost nothing they could hit. It all came in front of a crowd that definitely showed up with divided allegiances.
A first-pitch strike to Aaron Hill also drew cheers, but so did a single by the Jays’ Eric Thames that followed. Slowly, the love turned from Halladay to the Blue Jays. “Once the game started, the way things unfolded (the fans) were cheering for (the Blue Jays),” said Halladay.
By the ninth, after Toronto manager John Farrell and pitcher John Rauch were tossed for arguing balls and strikes, the crowd was booing Halladay’s every strike call and all was once again right in the baseball universe.
“I know the fans appreciate you,” said Halladay, “(but) it is kind of like turning the page.”