PHILADELPHIA — Roy Halladay spent his whole career waiting for this start, wondering what it would be like to pitch in the playoffs.
It was better than he — or anyone else — could have predicted. Halladay threw the second no-hitter in post-season history, leading the Philadelphia Phillies over the Cincinnati Reds 4-0 in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday.
"It's surreal, it really is," Halladay said. "I just wanted to pitch here, to pitch in the post-season. To go out and have a game like that, it's a dream come true."
Don Larsen is the only other pitcher to throw a post-season no-hitter. He tossed a perfect game for the Yankees in the 1956 World Series against Brooklyn. The 54th anniversary of Larsen's gem is this Friday.
The All-Star right-hander, who threw a perfect game at Florida on May 29, dominated the Reds with a sharp fastball and a devastating slow curve in his first playoff start.
The overmatched Reds never came close to a hit. Halladay allowed one runner, walking Jay Bruce on a full count with two outs in the fifth, and struck out eight.
"To get a no-hitter in this fashion, in your first post-season game, you've got to put it right up there," Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said.
Halladay threw 104 pitches, 79 for strikes. This was the first no-hitter against the Reds since 1971, when Philadelphia's Rick Wise beat them by the same 4-0 score.
"It's no fun out there," Reds slugger Joey Votto said. "It's like trying to hit nothing. He's an ace among aces."
Halladay spent 12 seasons with Toronto, far from the post-season. A trade last December brought him to the defending two-time NL champions, and gave him this chance.
"This is what you come here for," Halladay said. "It's a good team; they know how to win. ... It's been a great year, a fun year; we obviously have a ways to go."
With a sellout crowd standing in the ninth and chanting "Let's Go, Doc!" Halladay got a loud ovation when he jogged to the mound to start the inning.
Ramon Hernandez popped out to second baseman Chase Utley for the first out. Pinch-hitter Miguel Cairo then fouled out to third baseman Wilson Valdez.
Halladay then retired Brandon Phillips on a tapper in front of the plate to end it. Catcher Carlos Ruiz pounced on the ball, getting down on his knee as the ball rolled near Phillips' bat, and made a strong throw for the final out.
"If I was catching, I probably would've picked up the ball and bat and threw them both," Phils Manager Charlie Manuel said.
Halladay pumped his fist into his glove as Ruiz rushed to the mound.
"I felt like we got in a groove early," Halladay said. "Carlos has been great all year, he helps me get into a rhythm early, throwing strikes."
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins made the toughest play to preserve the no-hitter, going deep in the hole and making a strong throw to retire Votto in the fourth.
Pitcher Travis Wood hit a sinking liner to right that Jayson Werth caught in the third. Pinch-hitter Juan Francisco hit a hard grounder up the middle in the sixth, but Rollins made it look easy.
There were five no-hitters in the majors this year as pitchers dominated. But five no-hit bids got broken up in the ninth inning, too. Halladay became the fifth pitcher to throw two no-hitters in the same year. He joined Nolan Ryan (1973), Virgil Trucks (1952), Allie Reynolds (1951) and Johnny Vander Meer (1938).
The last time a pitcher came close to a no-hitter in the post-season was quite a while ago. Boston's Jim Lonborg went 72⁄3 innings against St. Louis in the 1967 World Series before Julian Javier broke up it with a double, according to STATS LLC.
The Phillies led the majors in wins (97) for the first time in franchise history, captured their fourth consecutive division title and are trying to become the first NL team in 66 years to win three straight pennants.
They are prohibitive favorites in this best-of-five series against the NL Central champion Reds, who are making their first postseason appearance since 1995.
The Reds led the NL in average (.272), homers (188) and runs (790). But they couldn't do anything against Halladay, who won 21 games and is a strong candidate to win his second Cy Young Award.
The 33-year-old topped the NL in victories and led the majors in innings, shutouts and complete games. He was at the top of his game from the get-go in Game 1.
A determined, intense Halladay got ahead of hitters and worked quickly. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the first 18 batters.
"It was great managing," Manuel joked. "He was very good. He had a tremendous feel. He sold his pitches well."
Halladay even did it at the plate. He drove in a run in the second with a single.
Philadelphia is lucky to have him. Halladay probably would've received the richest contract ever for a pitcher if he had tested the free-agency market, but he wanted to play in Philadelphia and signed a $60 million, three-year extension to complete a trade. There was much talk down the stretch about Halladay's inexperience in the post-season. The Phillies also have Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Both pitchers have been dominant in previous playoff games, but Halladay got the ball and didn't disappoint.
The Phillies gave Halladay all the runs he would need in the first. Shane Victorino sliced a one-out double down the left-field line. He stole third and scored on Utley's sacrifice fly to right. A fired-up Victorino slid headfirst barely ahead of Bruce's strong one-hop throw, got up and patted plate umpire John Hirschbeck on the behind on his way to the dugout.
Ruiz drew a two-out walk in the second, and Valdez bounced an infield single that shortstop Orlando Cabrera fielded on the second-base side of the infield. Halladay then hit a hard liner to left that fell in ahead of Jonny Gomes' sliding attempt. Ruiz scored to make it 2-0. After Rollins walked to load the bases, Victorino chased Volquez with a two-run single.