Rays, Rangers marvel at Halladay's feat
Zimmer witnessed Larsen's perfect game in 1956 Fall Classic
ST. PETERSBURG -- The memories came flooding back for Don Zimmer on Wednesday night.
As he watched the telecast of Roy Halladay's no-hitter for the Phillies against the Reds in Game 1 of their National League Division Series, Zimmer kept returning to an October afternoon in 1956 when he watched, from the Brooklyn dugout, Don Larsen's World Series perfect game against the Dodgers at Yankee Stadium.
"Last night brought back memories," Zimmer, a special advisor for the Rays, said. "From the fourth inning on I was watching the game, thinking, 'If this ain't something.' In the sixth, my wife said it was a no-hitter, and then I really started paying close attention.
"He did it awfully easy. Strike one, strike two. When he misses, he misses that far [holding his hands a few inches apart]. He's just a great pitcher, that's all there is to it. He did it his first time he's ever pitched in the playoffs -- that's what's so amazing about it. He makes it look very easy, but it's not."
Zimmer, who fractured a cheekbone early in the 1956 season, was on the Dodgers' bench when Larsen worked his magic. An infielder who had played a role in the Dodgers' Game 7 triumph in the '55 World Series, leaving in the fifth inning with Sandy Amoros taking left field and Jim Gilliam moving to second, Zimmer was given clearance to be on the bench for Larsen's classic effort by Yankees manager Casey Stengel.
"What's different about Halladay and Larsen was that Larsen and [Bob] Turley went with that no windup," Zimmer said. "That game was going on and on, and Mickey Mantle made that great running catch. All of a sudden it's the seventh inning and you realize he's throwing a no-hitter.
"He threw strike three [on the final pitch of the game to pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell] and it might have been high, but I don't want to take anything away from what Larsen did. He threw a perfect game."
Halladay was one strike away from perfection, walking Jay Bruce on a full count in the fifth inning.
Many members of the Rays and Rangers, relaxing after Texas' 5-1 Game 1 American League Division Series victory earlier in the day, caught Halladay's gem. One who missed it was Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon.
"I didn't see it," Maddon said. "If you had told me or asked who threw 25 out of 28 first-pitch strikes in a playoff game, I would have said either Halladay or Cliff Lee. So it was Halladay yesterday.
"Facing that man right there, he's so well prepared. I got to know him a little bit in the All-Star Game last year. [He's] so well prepared, and the fact that he's got such a wide array, variety of pitches that he commands and the ball moves both ways to righties and lefties ... he's truly unique.
"So does it surprise you? No. The fact that it was his first playoff game, I can understand him being even more psyched possibly, and it showed. So it's really not surprising. The guy is really that good."
The Rays had some success with Halladay during his Toronto days. He was 12-11 against Tampa Bay with a 3.67 ERA in 34 games. Carl Crawford (.345, three homers, 12 RBIs in 54 at-bats) and B.J. Upton (.357 in 42 at-bats) both plagued Halladay.
Upton said he hasn't seen the great right-hander that sharp.
"Not when he's got it going like that," Upton said. "We've seen him a lot. And we've seen him very good. But just from watching him on TV, for me, I think that's the best I've ever seen him."
Asked if he's happy to see the National League have the Halladay experience now, Upton said: "Yeah, they can have that for a while. A couple of us are glad he's not in this division anymore. When he's going like he was last night, he's very tough."
The Rays' Ben Zobrist has struggled against Halladay in 24 at-bats, batting .208.
"I just saw the celebration at the end, and I realized that he had thrown a no-hitter," Zobrist said. "I've always said to people when they ask me, 'Who's the toughest pitcher that you've had to face,' I would say that guy. He throws everything and he spots everything up, and he's really tough to get the barrel on the ball. Obviously, he was last night for the Reds."
Halladay is 7-7 with a 5.36 ERA in 20 career appearances against the Rangers.
"He did it to a very powerful lineup," Rangers manager Ron Washington said, "so that speaks volumes to the type of pitcher that Halladay is. When he's hitting his spots, keeping the ball down [and] getting ahead of hitters like he did yesterday, he's a thoroughbred -- and he knows how to take it to the finish line. At no point in that ninth inning did I see any stress."
Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux grew up with an all-time great, brother Greg, and knows what goes into the making of an elite pitcher such as Halladay.
"The guy is a horse," Maddux said. "I thought our guy [Lee] threw a good ballgame; that guy threw a great ballgame. He was trying to win a ballgame and things were going his way. He didn't get out of his game. He knew what was working and he kept throwing strikes."
Michael Young was having a meal, his attention divided between the cuisine and the TV screen.
"I saw it at dinner," the Rangers' third baseman said. "I had one eye on the television and one eye on my food. I think he really wanted to win that game. That's ridiculous to do it on that stage. Good for him."
The final word was left to Zimmer.
"They did a TV special on me and said I've seen everything," Zimmer said, grinning. "Last night proves you never see everything in this game. There's always something new."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.