TORONTO - The very first time Phillies GM Ruben Amaro saw Roy Halladay was across the Blue Jays clubhouse at Dunedin in the spring of 1996.
Amaro, 31, was trying to make the Jays as a back-up outfielder.
“He was younger, a big strong kid,” Amaro said from Philadelphia. “I don’t remember him being dominant.”
Amaro ticks off the Jays starters: Charlie O’Brien behind the plate, an infield of John Olerud, Tomas Perez, Ed Sprague and Alex Gonzalez and an outfield of Joe Carter, Otis Nixon and Shawn Green, while Carlos Delgado was the DH.
“They really didn’t have a back-up outfielder,” Amaro recalled. “They chose Juan Samuel. Cito Gaston sent me to Syracuse and I was terrible in the snow.”
Samuel had been a second baseman nine of his first 13 years in the majors.
An unhappy veteran at triple-A he asked Syracuse manager Richie Hebner for his release after 16 games.
“I was phoning triple-A clubs for work, Lee Thomas and Ed Wade (with the Phillies) said they had something, somebody got hurt,” said Amaro, who said he’d made the two-hour, drive to minor-league Scranton. Thomas said “no, we want you in the big leagues.”
“That call led me to being GM,” Amaro said.
At the time, Halladay was 15-7 with a 2.73 earned run average at class-A Dunedin in 1996, as Amaro returned to the Phillies.
The next time Amaro remembers Halladay was a spring game at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater. Halladay hit first baseman Jim Thome in the left arm with a cut fastball. Halladay led off the fourth, against lefty reliever Rheal Cormier of Moncton, N.B. Cormier’s first pitch was inside and the second pitch was so inside catcher Todd Pratt couldn’t catch it, causing plate umpire Eric Cooper to issue a warning, jawing began and the benches cleared.
On-deck hitter Orlando Hudson sprinted out, Phillies coach John Vukovich applied a bear hug, Hudson yelled at Bowa, who yelled at Halladay.
“I was the assistant GM then, he smokes one of our guys, didn’t back down, he’s got some big ‘cahones,’ ” Amaro said.
Amaro dealt prospects Michael Taylor, Travis d’Arnaud and Kyle Drabek to the Jays Dec. 16, 2009, for Halladay, who makes his first start against his old team Saturday afternoon. It will be his 51st start in a Phillies uniform and 338th of his career. Halladay is 31-13 (.705 win mark) wearing Philadelphia crimson, while the Phils are 36-14 (.720) in Halladay starts.
“Of all the pitchers I have faced or seen, Halladay ranks with Greg Maddux and John Smoltz,” said Amaro. “Smoltz’s stuff, Maddux’s command and Steve Carlton’s dedication, mentality and focus.
“Halladay is the best I’ve seen since Carlton, similar to Mo Rivera. Expectations are so high every time on the mound, yet they keep doing it.
“I watched Carlton,” Amaro said, “it would be a toss up between those two as to who the best is.”
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The first time Tom Robson saw Halladay, both were in the Rogers Centre bullpen in 2009. The right-hander from Ladner, B.C. was 15, attending the Mizuno Camp with the best prospects from coast to coast.
Robson stood in the bullpen with other teenagers as Halladay threw a session with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.
“It was incredible,” Robson said, “he didn’t bounce once ball, didn’t miss one spot.”
Robson was speaking Friday before suiting up and being honoured on the field during pre-game ceremonies along with the rest of the Canadian Junior National Team which heads to Cuba on Monday.
The first Canadian chosen in the June draft, Robson was selected in the fourth round by the Jays, remaining unsigned.
“He’s still amazing,” Robson said. “On the coast we don’t see the Phillies a lot. I saw his no hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in the post-season. I was nervous when Brandon Phillips hit the ball in front of the plate. I was afraid the ball would hit the bat, but Carlos Ruiz got threw to first for the final out.”
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The first time Raul Ibanez saw Halladay, Ibanez was 27, playing right field for the Seattle Mariners.
“Both him and Chris Carpenter were nasty,” Ibanez said near the Phillies dugout Friday morn.
“He’s like a machine,” Ibanez said. “He has the ability to be consistently great, his standard of excellence is so high, you expect it every start. Some guys you used to face come over and you notice something different. He’s even better. He’s human, but he’s like a machine in preparation for his starts.”
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The first time Gary (Sarge) Matthews saw Halladay was in 1998 at Dunedin, when Matthews was 48 and the Jays hitting coach under manager Tim Johnson.
“That second start, final day of the season, when Detroit’s Bobby Higginson broke up his no-hit bid with a two-out homer ... I thought he was going to be a star,” Matthews said. “He was surrounded by great pitchers like Roger Clemens, Pat Hentgen, Chris Carpenter and Juan Guzman. He had problems, went to Dunedin, worked them out and here he is.”
The Phillies broadcaster is writing a book on club history and ranking the top five at each position.
“Right now he’s my fifth starter,” Matthews says. “I’ve got Grover Cleveland Alexander (373 wins), Robin Roberts (286), Carlton (329), Jim Bunning (224) and Roy.”
The first four are in Cooperstown.
Halladay always kept good company.