Of course, the Blue Jays didn't sniff the playoffs—again. On Sept. 12, 2000, in his second full season, Halladay took the ball with Toronto three games out of the American League wild-card spot. It is the closest he's been to the playoffs when pitching in September.
There are some things, he knows too well, beyond the control even of a control freak.
The Phillies tried to trade for Halladay early last July but could not work out a deal with Toronto. They traded for Cleveland lefthander Cliff Lee instead. (The Phillies made another failed run at Halladay even after getting Lee.) Philadelphia resumed its pursuit of Halladay in December and, 14 years after passing on him in the draft, finally got their man. The Phillies sent three prospects and cash to Toronto in exchange for Halladay. (In a separate deal they then sent Lee to Seattle for three prospects.) They handed their new ace a three-year extension that will pay him $20 million a year starting next season.
As someone who has never been a free agent, never pitched in the postseason and, until now, never pitched a home game in the U.S., Halladay has a remarkably low profile for being the master of his craft. But his lack of personal renown is his preference. "It's definitely by choice," he says. "For me the satisfaction is always the competition, and the self-gratification knowing you did something to the best of your ability. It's not ever going to be who knows me and what they think about me."
He is a modern Stoic, the Marcus Aurelius of the mound. "Confine yourself to the present," Aurelius said, and so Halladay does. Former workhorse pitcher Jack Morris once told him, "I'm just a robot. I just go out and make pitches, and that's all I do until they take me out." Halladay liked the sound of that. He has pitched with the purpose of a giant tunnel boring machine, grinding the hardest of rock, otherwise known as the AL East, into muck. His career until now has been spent smack in the heart of the Yankees--Red Sox axis of power, with Tampa Bay developing into a third power in the past two years.
His winning percentage is all the more remarkable considering the Jays' failings. Since 2001, for instance, Halladay has a .685 winning percentage for a team that played .496 baseball otherwise. Last year Halladay made 14 of his final 18 starts against the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. He had a 2.98 ERA in those 18 games, averaged almost eight innings per start, struck out more than five times as many batters as he walked—and still went 7--9.
Says Halladay when asked about pitching in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, "To me there's nothing better than having it go from loud to silent. That's one of my favorites. It's such a calming feeling when you get the last out and the place goes dead silent."
In those moments, with no next pitch needed, Halladay will allow a rare smile. "Whatever he does, he's very intense," his father says. "It's like he puts on a different face. He actually is a funny guy."
Funny? Halladay? Well, there was the elementary school talent show—he did a stand-up comedy routine. Right before his high school baseball state tournament was to begin, and right after his coach told the team to make sure they didn't do anything stupid to get hurt, Halladay showed up for the team bus with a cast on his pitching arm. Before they had to call in a defibrillator for the poor coach, Halladay ripped off the prop cast.
Brandy still gets nervous when she opens car doors, kitchen drawers and dressers, a reaction to the firecrackerlike noisemakers Roy rigged up around the house one Fourth of July. And if you show up in the clubhouse about seven hours before a game, you might find Halladay gleefully flying remote-control helicopters in, out of and around lockers.