MLB: My introduction to Roy Halladay as an elite MLB pitcher

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay delivers a pitch during practice March 3, 2004 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay delivers a pitch during practice March 3, 2004 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images) /

My first time seeing Roy Hallladay as one of the elite MLB pitchers

Tuesday brought the horrific news of the passing of Roy Halladay. Covering the tragic circumstances around Halladay’s passing and his HOF credentials (he’s in, if you ask me!) are for another article. When the news came across my Twitter timeline, I immediately went back to the day that Halladay established himself in my eyes as one of the elite pitchers in MLB, a game where I was introduced to a young Johan Santana as well.

My in-game background

Growing up in South Dakota, I was a good distance from a major league game, so they were few and far between until I got to college. My collegiate years were spent at the University of Minnesota, and at that time, my dorm was just across a walking bridge from the Metrodome, so games suddenly were close enough to attend frequently.

Being a pitching lover, I used the cheap student ticket nights to go to see as many of my favorite pitchers. I’d seen Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez all come through Minneapolis and pitch, often times going by myself to a game to enjoy a cheap seat with a scorecard and no distractions from a pitching great on the mound.

Since the game I’m about to mention, I’ve had the chance to see many other elite arms throw as well. A highlight was seeing Max Scherzer nearly throw a perfect game, if not for Jose Tabata‘s elbow.

The game

In 2003, I was working with a church and made the trip early in the season to see Halladay take on Kenny Rogers. Rogers was coming off a season where he’d rebounded from what looked to be the end of his career in 2001 at 36 to put up a 3.84 ERA over 210 2/3 IP with the Rangers. The Twins had signed him as a free agent before the season to help fill out their rotation with another veteran arm, pairing Rogers with 2002 15-game winner to give the Twins two upper-30s pitchers that could eat innings in their rotation.

Halladay was coming off of his first full rebound season. Halladay was an elite prospect when he came up in 1998, just 3 years after being drafted in the first round by the Blue Jays. However, in 2000, Halladay posted a 10.64 ERA over 19 games, and he ended up in the minor leagues. After nearly a year, he was back midway through the 2001 season and showed well the rest of the year. In 2002, Halladay took his first big step toward being one of the elite starters in the game, but he wasn’t QUITE there yet. He was a bit wild still, something that he’d conquer in 2003, his first Cy Young Award season.

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The game was on a Saturday night, so there was a pretty decent crowd. It was also the first Saturday home game of the season, being early April. On the season, the Blue Jays and Twins were an even match, with both teams finishing with the same Pythagorean record, though the Twins gained a few extra games to win 90 total, winning the AL Central.

Halladay cruised through the first on 7 pitches. In the second, he gave up some hard hit balls by Doug Mientkiewicz and Bobby Kielty before getting out of the inning on a double play with two runs scoring in the inning.

From that point, Halladay wasn’t dominant, but he kept getting hit way through innings without problem. In the third, fourth, sixth, and seventh inning, he faced just 4 batters. In the 5th, he faced just 5, scattering two singles among three fly outs.

Halladay was pulled after the seventh inning, having tallied a line of 7 innings, allowing 2 runs on 8 hits and a walk, striking out 3.

Next: Halladay killed in plane crash

While the game finished with an exciting 4-3 final in 11 innings (and in only 3 hours and 29 minutes!), the result of the game was not what people were talking about. Halladay had blown away the Twins fans in the stadium that night with his control of the game, and there was a left-handed reliever that took over for the Twins in the 5th inning and threw two innings of dominating relief, walking two and striking out one.

That pitcher was Johan Santana. By the end of the season, he would be in the rotation, finishing 7th in the Cy Young voting as Halladay won the award.

I’ve never seen more exciting pitching than the “coming out” of those two young arms, asserting themselves as elite pitchers in that game – not Maddux, not Clemens, not Scherzer. This was the pinnacle of pitching I’ve been able to see, and we’ve now lost one of the men who provided that memorable day – much, much too young. Rest in peace, Doc.