09/26/08 12:22 AM EST
Halladay goes distance for No. 20
Ace gives vintage performance in Jays' final home game
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
It was more of the same, as complete-game victories are commonplace for the methodical Halladay, but this time was a little different as well. Moments after sealing the Blue Jays' 8-2 win over the Yankees, Halladay quickly shed his usual grimace and wore a wide grin while his teammates flooded the field to offer hand shakes and hugs.
"It's like all the hard work and there it is -- relief," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said.
It was a little more than that for Halladay. This win was his 20th of the year -- a plateau he has only reached once previously, when he captured the American League Cy Young Award in 2003. If Gaston had any say in the matter, Halladay would take home the same honor this season.
Halladay has been the leader of a stellar starting staff this year for the Blue Jays (84-75) and he showed precisely why in his effort against the Yankees (87-72). The right-hander sliced his way through New York's lineup, completing the game in 96 pitches, inducing 17 outs via ground ball and retiring the final 13 batters he faced in order.
There were also the two runs he allowed along the way, but the effort still dropped Halladay's season ERA to 2.78 -- the second-best mark in the league. When it was all said and done, and New York's Johnny Damon grounded out to second base to end the game, Halladay made his way off the field to a standing ovation, waving his hat as he walked.
"It just goes to show the type of year that he had and the type of pitcher that he is," Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells said. "He's one of the few guys in baseball where you know every time he steps on the mound what you're going to get.
"It's always a pleasure playing behind him."
Often this season, the problem was that Halladay (20-11) didn't always know how much support he was going to receive from his offense. In his 11 losses, the right-hander was given only 23 total runs to work with. After his latest win, Halladay was quick to credit his hitters for the help against the Yankees.
Wells led the way, launching a two-run home run in the third inning off New York starter Carl Pavano and adding a two-run single in the fourth. Eight of Toronto's players recorded at least one hit on the night, including three from rookie outfielder Travis Snider. It was the type of that had Gaston smiling as well.
"It was perfect," Gaston said. "Guys stood up and really gave him some run support tonight. I was hoping for that."
It was a good ending to a busy day for the Blue Jays.
Prior to the game, Halladay's pregame routine was briefly interrupted by a clubhouse meeting -- called by team president and CEO Paul Godfrey. The players were informed that Gaston had just signed a two-year extension and that general manager J.P. Ricciardi would be back at the helm next season, too.
Halladay was happy to hear the news.
"To me, it says that we're going to continue to try and win," Halladay said. "That's important for me. I like what Cito has done in the time that he's been here -- I think we've gone in some good directions -- and I've always trusted J.P.
"I've just felt like there's probably been times when, as players, we may have underachieved and I think that reflects poorly on him. That wasn't necessarily his decision-making. I like that they're coming back."
With that news in hand, Halladay notched his Major League-leading ninth complete game -- a total that is more than 27 teams have as a whole. The nine full efforts also tie a career best for Halladay, who also struck out five to establish a personal high of 206 strikeouts this season.
Halladay's showing has been one of the silver linings in this frustrating season for Toronto. But, while the club is mired in fourth place in the AL East, Halladay said he intends to focus on the positive strides the Jays made this year.
"Really, in the end, I'm going to take a lot of good things out of it -- I really am," Halladay said. "I think 'frustration' is not one of the words I'll use. It was exciting for me. I have a lot of great teammates and it was a fun season.
"Obviously, we want to improve on it. We want to get to the postseason -- that's our goal -- but I enjoyed this season."
Much like Gaston enjoyed watching Halladay shine one last time this year.
"It couldn't be any better," Gaston said. "A guy that works as hard as Doc and cares as much as he does about getting the job done when he's out there, he's probably one of the best competitors I've ever had here."
Jordan Bastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.