4 Years Ago Tonight: Doc’s Playoff No-hitter


In the spring of 1971, Veteran’s Stadium opened in my South Philly neighborhood, and what has become a lifelong love affair with the Philadelphia Phillies began. I was 9-years old then, and over the next 7-8 years, through my high school days, my friends and I would attend countless games.

This continued into my adult years, through relationships changing, careers changing, children of my own being born and raised, an entire college career and graduation and hundreds more Phillies games over the three decades after the 70’s had ended. This included the eventual implosion of The Vet, and the birth of Citizens Bank Park.

I saw dramatic walk-off homeruns. Saw the entire career of Michael Jack Schmidt. Saw numerous gems from Steve Carlton. Watched sluggers like Dick Allen and Greg Luzinski hit bombs at The Vet, and then watched Jim Thome and Pat Burrell do the same at Citizens Bank Park.

I got to see the Phillies play in the World Series. No, not the 2008 World Series. I was at Game Two of the 1980 World Series, as an 18-year old, up in the nosebleed seats in the 700 level at Veteran’s Stadium, roaring with the crowd as the Fightins’ took a 2-0 lead in what would become the first-ever championship for our franchise

I got to see many more great players perform in person in a Phillies uniform across at least four generations of players: Pete Rose, Larry  Bowa, Bob Boone, Tug McGraw, Garry Maddox, Gary Matthews, Juan Samuel, Curt Schilling, Darren Daulton, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, Mitch Williams, Scott Rolen, Bobby Abreu, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Cliff Lee and more.

I got to enjoy MVP seasons from Schmidt and Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, and Cy Young seasons from Carlton, John Denny, Steve Bedrosian, and Roy Halladay. Got to listen to games called on TV and radio by Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn for the better part of three decades.

But one thing that I had never experienced, in person, in my first 40 seasons attending Phillies games, was a no-hitter. Little did I know when I settled into my seat in section 308 on October 6th, 2010 – 4 years ago tonight – for Game Two of the Phillies NLDS vs. the Cincinnati Reds, that was about to change.

In the aftermath of the Phillies thrilling 2008 World Series victory, my wife Debbie and I had become season ticket holders for the first time. She was a big baseball fan as well, once having been ‘hit on’ by Jim Fregosi right in front of me following a mid-90’s game at The Vet (story for another day.) We settled on a Sunday plan, which got us about 14 games a year. But when the 2009 playoffs came around, money was a bit tight, and we turned down an opportunity at purchasing playoff tickets.

For the 2010 season, we had renewed our plan, and this time were also bound and determined to see the playoffs, should the Phillies reach the postseason for what would be a 4th consecutive year. The team held up their end, and we ordered our playoff tickets. Having attended Game Two of the 2007 NLDS vs. Colorado, this would be our 2nd-ever playoff game together.

The Phils, already leading 1-0 in the series, bolted out to an early 4-0 lead by just the 2nd inning. Shane “the Flyin’ Hawaiian” Victorino had a pair of hits, scored one run, and drove in two more. Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay also knocked in a run. With this early lead, it was up to the NL Cy Young Award contender to hold it for 7 more innings. Hold it he did, and then some.

It was around the 5th inning that I realized that Halladay had a no-hitter going. This seemed to be about the same time that the rest of the ballpark was starting to notice too, because as he set the Reds down in order in the top of the 6th, there was a noticeable buzz with each successful out recorded.

As the inning ended, my cellphone suddenly rang. I could barely hear with the noise in the ballpark, but I answered when I saw that it was my then 70-year old father calling from Florida. I held my hand over my ears to try to hear better and said “Hello?”

Knowing that we were supposed to be there, my dad asked if we were at the game. When I said that we were, he replied urgently “Do you realize what’s going on?” I somewhat snapped at him, saying “Yeah, and don’t mention it! It’s bad luck!” He chuckled, and we said our goodbyes, saying that we would talk later.

My wife told me that I had been a little “snippy” with him, and I told her “Well, he was about to mention the you-know-what!” Of course, she and I had already very briefly talked about it as the 6th inning had unfolded.

We didn’t have a “Perfect Game” going, only because Reds’ right fielder Jay Bruce had walked with two outs in the 5th. It was the only blemish on Doc’s ledger as he now mowed down three straight hitters in both the 7th and 8th innings. The score had not changed, and so we went to the top of the 9th with the Phillies up 4-0, and a no-hitter intact.

Jay Bruce walked with 2-outs in the 5th. It would be Halladay’s only blemish on the historic night.

This was new territory for me. I figured that I had attended hundreds of Phillies games over the fourty 1971-2010 seasons. But I had never been this close to a no-hitter before. Not even close. To have it be happening in the already electrified atmosphere of the playoffs just made the experience even more surreal.

The crowd was on its feat the entire 9th inning as Doc took the mound, pitching to catcher Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz. Chooch was an outstanding defensive catcher, quick and agile, with a strong arm. Offensively he was more of a clutch-hitter, often coming up with big hits at key moments. Pitchers love throwing to him, and Halladay was no different.

Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz would prove a hero at the end.

Chooch’s counterpart with Cincy, catcher Ramon Hernandez, led off the top of the 9th and popped up easily to 2nd baseman Chase Utley. One out, and the crowd all around us was in a frenzy. Reds manager Dusty Baker sent up a pinch-hitter, Miguel Cairo, to hit for relief pitcher Bill Bray.

Cairo was a 36-year old veteran who had hit right-handers at a .304 clip during the regular season, and who had tortured Philleis pitching with a .571 batting average (8-14) in 2010. The Reds skipper was looking for someone, anyone, to light a spark by breaking up this no-hitter, and Cairo seemed a good candidate.

He wasn’t. Halladay overmatched him as well, forcing a foul popup to 3rd baseman Wilson Valdez. Two outs, and the crowd roared as one. It would later be determined that there were 46,411 of us there that night, which meant that Citizens Bank Park was more than 6% over its regular capacity.

In that moment, we were one. Every fan stood clapping, shouting encouragement, trying to give Doc an emotional lift, pushing for the finish that we wanted by the sheer force of our combined will.

The Reds hitter was their leadoff man and all-star 2nd baseman, Brandon Phillips. He had some pop, and perhaps most importantly in this spot, he could run. What would happen here, right at the very end, would give nearly every one of us among the 46,000+ a virtual heart attack.

Phillips swung and barely connected with Halladay’s pitch, and the ball tapped down right in front of the plate, spinning oddly. As the speedy Phillips darted off down the line towards 1st base, he dropped the bat right at the plate as Ruiz pounced from behind. Chooch very nearly tripped over the bat, having to make a tremendous athletic play just to avoid it.

In doing so, he fell to his knees, grabbed the spinning ball, and position for a throw. His laser beam reached 1st baseman Ryan Howard a split-second before Phillips crossed the bag, but clearly ahead of him. The third out. Bedlam. The next moments were like a slow-motion dream: the players storming the mound in celebration. The deafening roar of the delirious crowd. Deb & I hugging and cheering, jumping up and down. The place actually felt like it was going to collapse.

Speedy 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips nearly ruined it at the very end (Photo by Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

We stayed, not just Deb and I but many in the crowd, for a good 10 minutes after the game, still clapping, still cheering, as the players finally, slowly made their way off the field and into their victorious dugout and clubhouse. When we finally did leave, trying to get out of the ballpark area in our car was nearly impossible, the traffic was so gridlocked, with all the fans having stayed to the end.

The no-hitter by Roy Halladay was only the 2nd postseason no-hitter in MLB  history, following the legendary World Series Perfect Game from Yankees pitcher Don Larsen in 1956. Having gone 1-3 himself, Doc was the first pitcher in MLB history to record more hits in a game than he allowed. He had started ahead in the count 0-1 to 23 of the 28 batters he faced. The Bruce walk in the 4th inning would be his only blemish in the end. It was one of the most dominating performances ever.

The Phillies went on to win that series over Cincinnati in three straight games, but would lose the NLCS to the Giants. We would also be at the game where they were eliminated in heart-breaking fashion by San Francisco that year. But for this one glorious night, we got to see not just Phillies history, but baseball history. And it was four years ago tonight. Why does it seem even longer than that?