Halladay dominating on the senior circuit

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A big game? If such a thing is possible in April, then, yes, I suppose it was.

The Phillies took a punch-to-the-gut loss on Tuesday night in Atlanta. They had a three-run lead in the ninth inning, but fill-in closer Ryan Madson couldn't hold it. That extended their losing streak to three games. And there is no such thing as an unnoticed losing streak in Philadelphia.

But then Charlie Manuel handed the baseball to Roy Halladay on Wednesday. And that was that.

Phillies 2, Braves 0.

Complete game. Five hits. Shutout.

It's worth mentioning that Halladay batted in the top of the ninth inning. There was a runner on second base, but I doubt Manuel gave even cursory consideration to using a pinch hitter. This was Halladay's game.

As if to prove that, Doc retired the Braves in order -- Chipper Jones, then Brian McCann, then Troy Glaus -- to finish a good night's work in 113 pitches.

You were expecting something else from the best pitcher in baseball?

Wednesday's game included an intriguing encounter between Halladay and Jason Heyward, the early-season sensation and All-Star-in-the-making. Heyward went 0-for-2 with a walk and was on deck when the game ended.

Advantage: Halladay.

If you weren't paying attention during all those years when Halladay pitched in Toronto, then I hope you have done yourself a great favor by tuning in now. We are witnessing one of the finest pitchers of this generation or any other.

When a big performance is needed, Doc delivers. He's been doing this for some time now. But many of us never noticed, what with the Blue Jays missing the playoffs every year.

During those lonely Septembers and Octobers, Halladay yearned to pitch in the certifiable Big Games. With these Phillies, he should get that chance in six (or seven) months per year.

He's thriving so far, to the tune of a 4-0 record and 0.82 ERA. Statistically, he has been almost as good this April as Zack Greinke was for the Royals in the first month last year. Of course, the big difference is that we can appreciate Halladay's brilliance while pitching for an outstanding team.

Halladay relied on his teammates at several key points on Wednesday. Center fielder Shane Victorino robbed Glaus of a would-be home run in the second inning. Chase Utley started a sterling double play (with the bases loaded) to end the eighth, prompting Halladay to pump his fist with such force that he almost shattered your television set.

It was the sort of night that made us wonder (again) how dominant Halladay will be in the National League.

Halladay posted ERAs of 2.78 and 2.79 during the past two seasons, even though his team faced the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays a total of 54 games per year.

Against weaker lineups in the National League, how low could his ERA go?

We probably won't see 1.12 (Bob Gibson, 1968) ever again. But an aging Roger Clemens maintained a 1.87 ERA five years ago. Surely, that is within Halladay's reach.

"He can stay in the 1's," said Dodgers outfielder Reed Johnson, a former Toronto teammate. "I think he could."

But ERA isn't the statistic most closely associated with Halladay. He's a complete game guy. Nine last year. Nine the year before that.

Some have questioned whether that trend will continue in the National League. I have no doubt that it will.

For one thing, the Phillies have an outstanding offense. They will score enough runs -- and Halladay will permit so few -- that he will probably have a lead through eight innings on most nights.

So, as was the case Wednesday, there won't be any need to pinch-hit.

And as you might have heard, their bullpen isn't exactly airtight. With three outs to get, would you prefer Halladay, Madson, or (when healthy) Brad Lidge?

Is that even a question?

Whether you love or hate the Phillies, you can't deny that Halladay looks like a perfect fit for his new team.

They are a perfect fit for him, because they have won back-to-back pennants and he desperately wants to pitch in October.

And he is perfect for them, because he is the steadying force on a pitching staff dealing with injuries (Lidge, Joe Blanton, J.C. Romero), sort-of-injuries (J.A. Happ) and iffy performances (Madson, Jamie Moyer).

As if it wasn't obvious already, Halladay is going to have a huge year for the Phillies. We are going to talk about him a lot between now and October. And that's a very good thing.