Halladay shows steadiness in win
Ace goes distance vs. Rangers; Hill drives in three runs
ARLINGTON -- Few starting pitchers in baseball can lend their team the outstanding performances, even temperament and methodical consistency of a Roy Halladay.That's no news flash, of course. But it's darned comforting to his manager, bullpen and teammates. Halladay's April continued to improve on Saturday, as he followed his seven-inning loss on Opening Day and eight-inning win last Sunday with a nine-inning triumph over the Texas Rangers. His 10th career shutout eluded him, but after working 8 1/3 scoreless innings, Halladay polished off the 32nd complete game of his career by locking down a 4-1 victory before 34,960 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. "He does that quite often," Jays manager John Gibbons said appreciatively. "That's not an easy lineup and he's had some tough times against these guys. But when you look at the last couple of years, he's probably the most dominant pitcher, complete game-wise." The four-time All-Star does like to finish what he begins. Last year, Halladay led the Majors with seven complete games, three more than his closest competitor. Five of those came after the All-Star break, after he regained his stamina following a bout with appendicitis in May. "Tonight was a very typical night for him," said Jays catcher Gregg Zaun. "He had a game plan, and he executed it very well. He makes my job very easy." All Halladay (2-1) asked of his teammates was to contribute competent defense (check) and a modicum of offense (check). Toronto had no errors, turned one double play and cracked Rangers starter Luis Mendoza (0-1) for four runs in the first four innings. Aaron Hill drove in three runs, contributing an RBI double in the first and a two-run single in the fourth. More sloppy defense by the Rangers led to three unearned runs, as third baseman Hank Blalock committed an error and shortstop Michael Young could not snag two key bouncers that seemed within reach. "When you face a guy like Halladay, you can't let him get a lead like he got," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Then he controls the baseball, and it's not like he's some rookie." Certainly not. The Rangers managed to spoil Halladay's shutout bid in the ninth, when Josh Hamilton singled and scored on a one-out double by Marlon Byrd. But that was the only smudge on this masterpiece. Halladay scattered six hits, walked one and struck out six. In one stretch, he retired 15 of 16 hitters. The only exception in that span came when Halladay hit Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler with what appeared to be a purpose pitch in the bottom of the third, in retaliation for Mendoza hitting Hill in the top of the inning. "It would've been nice [to get the shutout]," Halladay said, "but it's a win and I'll take 'em any way I can get 'em. [With a late lead], you just want to get the game over and get out of there." Rangers Ballpark hasn't often been kind to Halladay. It was here in July 2005 that Texas outfielder Kevin Mench lined a ball off Halladay, ending the pitcher's season with a fractured left tibia. He was only leading the American League in ERA at the time. Last May, Halladay matched a career-worst performance by allowing 12 hits in an 11-4 loss here. He entered Saturday's start with an uncharacteristic 3-3 record and 7.00 ERA after 10 starts in Arlington. "We didn't talk about it before the game," Zaun said. "He's not like that. But I'm sure he can probably recall every at-bat he's ever worked here, or has them written down in his notebook." Halladay said he is never uneasy pitching someplace where his luck or results have been poor. "If you ever go out there thinking about things that happened in the past, you're in trouble," he said. Instead, he focused on the Texas batting order that, thanks to a quirk of scheduling, he must face again Thursday in Toronto. "This is always a tough team to pitch against because they've got a lot of good hitters in their lineup," Halladay said. "It's always tough here. "It's also tough having to face them again next time. It's tough to say who the advantage goes to in that situation. But there's nothing you can do about it anyway." At least the early scores allowed Halladay to get comfortable quickly. Hill bounced a bad-hop double up the middle past Young to score David Eckstein for a 1-0 lead in the first. The Jays added three runs in the fourth on an RBI single by Joe Inglett and a two-run single by Hill that glanced off Young's glove as the shortstop ranged far to his right. That 4-0 lead was more than enough for Halladay on this night. "He had pretty much everything going," Zaun said. "His sinker was good, his cutter was good, he mixed in a good curve and changeup a couple times. Everything had good movement and good placement." And even as the Rangers mounted a small threat late, Gibbons wasn't too worried. "You usually don't need to give [Halladay] a whole lot, in terms of runs," Gibbons said. "And then he finds another gear. Late in the game, he smells it and gets even stronger." Such was the case on Saturday. And now, having won the first two games of the series, the Jays enter Sunday with a chance to complete their first three-game sweep in Texas since April 26-28, 1985.
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.