Roy Halladay’s No-Hitter, Moment by Moment

The following is a submission from Nick Scott, who writes for fellow ESPN SweetSpot blog Royals Authority as well as Broken Bat Single. He analyzed every millisecond in the final out of Roy Halladay‘s no-hitter last night against the Cincinnati Reds, and I thought it was a great read. He offered to have it re-posted here for your enjoyment.

You can view a larger version of each image by clicking on it.

. . .

There are thousands of plays in a baseball season.  They are not all created equal.  For example, on September 25, the Kansas City Royals played a game in Cleveland against the Indians.  In the top of the seventh inning, Mike Aviles grounded out to the shortstop for the second out of the inning.  The Royals were down seven runs to one, and both teams had long been out of the post season picture.  A few die-hard fans of each team cared, but the individual play had little to no significance in the grand scheme of baseball.  Plays like that are a part of baseball, they are needed to move the season to its conclusion.  However, it’s not those plays that create history, primarily because they are so abundant and so ordinary.

Last night, fans around baseball were treated to a historic moment.  Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter in a playoff game, only the second time it’s ever happened.  An individual game of baseball in many ways mirrors the season and even the entire history of the sport.  A game is not complete until every out has been made, just like a season isn’t complete until every game is played.  Many outs are merely mundane, simple groundouts to short, there seemingly to move the game a step closer to the end.  Some outs, just like some games, take on a much greater importance.  Outs like the one to end a no-hitter take on supreme importance, and playoff games likewise.  The convergence of an important out and an important game elevate the moment to one of historic proportions.

I’d like to focus on the final out of last night’s game moment by moment.  An out that took roughly 10 seconds from pitch until completion, but one that encapsulates the drama of baseball.

It’s the top of the ninth inning, two outs and an 0-2 count on Cincinnati Red Brandon PhillipsRoy Halladay had surrendered only a single walk  in this opening game of the National League Division Series.   He’d thrown a first pitch fastball for a strike at 93 MPH and followed it up with a 91 MPH cut fastball outside which Phillips swung at and missed.  Catcher Carlos Ruiz called for a curve ball off-the plate, knowing that Phillips was likely going to swing at nearly anything to stay alive, and hoping the change in speed would have him swinging in front of the pitch.  Halladay obliged with a 79 MPH curve, right where Ruiz wanted it.

Brandon Phillips, likely willing to do anything to stay alive and with that previous cut fastball still in his head, stretches out his arms and begins a very awkward swing at the curve ball.  The guy in the crowd wearing the white coat seems to be leaning in an attempt to will the ball past the batter.

Phillips gets stretched out just enough to get the very end of the bat on the ball.  However, the sink on the curve drops the ball to where it will hit on the lower half of the bat.  The guy sitting down in the second row is holding a radar gun.  He’s obviously some kind of scout.  He’s not there as a fan, he’s there for his job and isn’t even going to soak in the last pitch of a no-hitter in a playoff game.

Phillips drives the ball down to the ground weakly and it takes a half-hearted bounce.  Catcher Ruiz looks to be a little stunned that the ball is not in his glove and his body seems to be in a bad position to field the ball if it doesn’t get to the pitcher.  The guy standing next to the leaning white-coat guy seems convinced that the no-hitter has already happened.  He’s about four seconds from being right, but a lot still has to happen.

Phillips knows he barely hit the ball and his only shot at breaking up the no-hitter is to beat a throw from the catcher.  Ruiz begins to realize he is in a bad position, but is moving in the direction of the ball and begins to remove his mask.

Halladay finally begins to move towards the ball, probably realizing that Ruiz has a very tough play to make with Phillips running across his face and more importantly, the bat being dropped directly in the path of the ball.  The umpire, John Hirschbeck, shifts his weight, driving off of his left foot in an attempt to get in the best position to see the play unfold.  Meanwhile, the scout speaks into a headset, probably telling his assistant the speed of the pitch so it can be recorded.

Halladay realizes that the play is not his, he’s got no shot at it and can only get in the way.  Phillips hits the grass in a full sprint, and the ball hits the ground right in front of the still rolling bat.  Meanwhile, second basemen Chase Utley starts moving towards first to back up a potential errant throw.

Brandon Phillips takes the inside path towards first base, knowing that he is right in the path of the throw from Ruiz to first baseman Ryan Howard.  Ruiz stoops to pick up the ball, which is now rolling to the bat and about to bounce back towards the pitcher.

Ruiz runs just past the ball because the way it hits the bat, it gets directed in an odd direction.  Brandon Phillips is about halfway to first and Ruiz has yet to pick up the ball.  At this point, the entire play hinges on Ruiz being able to cleanly pick up the ball with his bare hand.  Rain earlier in the day likely clung to the grass, making the play that much more difficult.

Home plate umpire John Hirschbeck signals that the ball is fair, while Ruiz’s momentum carries him to his knees.  Brandon Phillips has moved a few steps closer to first, Utley continues to his backup position, first base umpire Bruce Dreckman gets into what he feels is the best position to see the play and Ryan Howard gets prepared to take a throw to the inside of the base, a throw which Phillips is still expertly blocking.  Roy Halladay is watching it all unfold in front of him and if I had to guess, isn’t convinced he’s got a no-hitter.

Ruiz fires the ball to the inside of Brandon Phillips, the throw taking nearly all of his upper body strength, since he cannot rely on his legs for power.  The ball quickly makes up ground on Phillips, but the play is still clearly in doubt.  Fans in Philly are probably not breathing.

Chase Utley, sensing a bad throw moves quicker into position, while umpire Dreckman is firmly in position ready to make the call.  The ball and Phillips are in a dead heat, the only question now is whether Ryan Howard can catch it.

Ryan Howard stretches to catch the high throw, utilizing every bit of his 6’4” frame.

History being made, the celebration ensues.

These small intricacies are typical of any baseball game, from a meaningless late September matchup between two basement-dwellers to postseason no-hitters.  It’s the competition inherent in the sport and the uniqueness of baseball which allow these rather typical series of moments take on the utmost significance.

Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command.  You can follow him on Twitter@brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

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41 comments

  1. Ian - Blue Jay Hunter

    October 07, 2010 09:22 AM

    Wow, this is a crazy detailed account of those final seconds. Great stuff. For a moment there, I thought Brandon Phillips might outrun that ball, because once it landed against the bat, Chooch had a very tough play to make. Kudos to Doc and the whole team.

  2. Nick Scott

    October 07, 2010 09:34 AM

    Thanks Ian. I just got inspired from watching the play to break it down because it was a very difficult play by Ruiz. I was sure he wasn’t going to get that ball to Howard in time, and once he threw it, I thought it was going to sail past. I’m not a Phillies fan, but I was rooting hard to see Halladay get his no-hitter.

  3. Chris G

    October 07, 2010 09:35 AM

    As a Reds fan, there’s not a chance I’m going to read a second-by-second recap of that game. No way I want to relive those moments.

    But I did want to stop by, show my face, and issue congratulations to Halladay on the most dominating pitching performance I’ve ever seen. Even better than Pedro’s best in the ’99-03 era. “Greg Maddux + Kevin Brown” is the only way I can describe it.

    Once the shock wore off, I was just impressed and – I guess – honored to have seen history.

    Luckily for the Reds, it only counts as one loss. (Though it felt like five).

    I’m taking hope anywhere I can find it – and that’s in the performance of our bullpen. Hopefully the Philly bats continue to sleep in game 2.

    P.S. I told you Jonny Gomes was a butcher.

  4. Drew

    October 07, 2010 10:01 AM

    I’m glad I was there and didn’t have to watch it on TV. I probably would’ve had a heart attack. I didn’t realize how difficult of a play it was until I got home and saw the replay. Go Chooch! Halladay’s ok too…

  5. Andy

    October 07, 2010 10:25 AM

    Great second by second account. And, if I’m not mistaken, there’s one thing that wasn’t mentioned either here or anywhere else that I’ve read: by running in such a location that it forced Chooch to make a perfect throw, Phillips should have been called out anyway for running outside of the baseline

  6. Jar

    October 07, 2010 11:00 AM

    Andy, you are right that “by the book” he could be called out there, but that play is very rarely called. Utley does it all the time, and I can only remember him being called out for it once. It’s one of those plays like the hard slide into second where some players try to push the limits and see if the umpires have the guts to call it. It’d be a shame if Doc lost the no-hitter like that but I understand Phillips has to do anything he can to help his team.

  7. Josh

    October 07, 2010 11:52 AM

    Fatalotti, there are two rules and you’re applying the wrong one. The runner is not allowed to be in fair territory once he is more than 45′ down the first base line. That’s what the second line on the first base side is for. This makes Chooch’s play that much more important, as he was able to overcome Phillips’ “cheating,” even if it was entirely unintentional (which I truly believe).
    Most umpires will not make that call unless the runner’s entire body is in fair territory. Runner’s break this rule probably 30-50% of the time if you watch closely, but it only really matters on bunts and dribblers like this, which is why it is rarely called..

  8. Jeff

    October 07, 2010 12:04 PM

    Fatalotti-
    You are 100% incorrect.
    Source: Official Baseball Rules

  9. Nick Scott

    October 07, 2010 12:16 PM

    I’d be extremely surprised if Brandon Phillips didn’t know exactly what he was doing. He know where the throw was coming from and he positioned himself to be the biggest nuisance. It’s a good baseball play.

  10. Mike P

    October 07, 2010 12:20 PM

    Great breakdown of the play! The way you describe the intricacies of the play helps give voice to the reasons that baseball fans love the game so much. I know that next time I hear somebody say, “Baseball is boring! Nothing happens!”, I’ll forward them to this story. Thanks!

  11. Nick Scott

    October 07, 2010 12:22 PM

    Thanks Mike, I appreciate that. I really like the intricacies of the game. I was most shocked by the scout taking radar on the final pitch. I mean, really?

  12. Sanj

    October 07, 2010 12:41 PM

    Wow, I’d like to see what a game recap looks like for this guy. He will never get a job putting highlight reels together for ESPN.

    Prediction:
    Friday: Oswalt – Perfect Game
    Sunday: Hamels – 81 Pitch, 27 K, Perfect Game.

  13. Jon

    October 07, 2010 01:30 PM

    And for game 1 of the NLCS, Halladay will throw a 27 pitch perfect game with each batter either lining back to him or popping up to him, so no other player touches the ball.

    Oswalt will top that in game 2 by doing the same, plus hitting a solo homer for the Phillies’ only run. :-)

  14. Rob

    October 07, 2010 02:52 PM

    Radar gun guy — what a pro.

  15. Dave

    October 07, 2010 03:33 PM

    Confirmed that the Red’s Friday lineup will be the same except for Laynce Nix in LF, Ryan Hanigan at C and of course Arroyo.

  16. Marley

    October 08, 2010 12:35 AM

    Outstanding post.

  17. Scott G

    October 08, 2010 11:19 AM

    Bill,

    I noticed someone commented on another post asking how the strike zone plots are generated. That also made me curious about the answer. Are the pitches charted by hand or are they computer generated? Does anyone know?

  18. Partha

    October 08, 2010 12:05 PM

    Should Phillips have been called out because the ball hit the bat lying in fair territory? I seem to recall some rule about that, but I’m not sure what the outcomes are.

  19. Nick Scott

    October 08, 2010 01:23 PM

    Partha,

    The rule is that the batter is out if the ball hits a bat which is still moving. The umpire watched closely and the bat had stopped moving when the ball hit it, thus making it a fair ball.

  20. JKRC

    October 08, 2010 02:19 PM

    That radar guy is always there…he works for the Phillies and is responible for the “pitch type and speed” you see on the scoreboards at the stadium. he has to radio to the scoreboard operator the speed and pitch type of every pitch for it to be displayed.

  21. jauer

    October 08, 2010 02:30 PM

    It doesn’t matter if the bat is moving or not; if they make contact and its unintentional, its a live ball.

    Also, how can we trust the fangraphs strike zone plot? It has the strike zone as 2 feet wide. Home plate is 17 inches…

  22. Dave

    October 08, 2010 03:24 PM

    Why is Rollins in the 6hole and not leadoff?

  23. Nick Scott

    October 08, 2010 03:56 PM

    jauer,

    The plate is 17″ wide, but a strike is if any part of the ball touches the plate, which should widen the zone to about 20″. However, if you look at where strikes are called by umps, aka the effectiv strikezone, that edges out to about 24 inches. Thus the use of the common 2′ wide zone.

  24. Scott G

    October 08, 2010 10:18 PM

    Nick,

    Is what you actually said true? Not every ump has the same “subjective” strike zone which is a joke to begin with. The strike zone plot should have the red box as the 17″ or 20″ (which would make sense with the most minimal amount of ball passing over the plate. Do you honestly believe Fangraphs sys the umps use an effective zone of 2 ft? That’s kind of crazy, and if it’s true that’s probably the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard.

    Also, usually if a ball “touches the plate”, I would think it would be too low to be a strike lol.

  25. jauer

    October 08, 2010 11:24 PM

    The diameter of a baseball is 3 inches; and assuming these dots are the center of the baseball means that it should be a 20-inch strike zone (1.5 inches on either side).

    The “effective” strike zone you describe completely undermines the need for a strike zone plot. It should be 20 inches instead of 24.

  26. Nick Scott

    October 09, 2010 08:47 AM

    jauer, if you look at plots where umpires call strikes, the normal called strike zone is 24 inches. Whatever the rule book says, the actual strike zone is the one called by the umpires. If you throw a ball withing that 2 ft box it will be called a strike more often than it is called a ball.

    Going strictly by rulebook interpretation you are right, but in real-world applications, the 24″ strikezone is more accurate.

  27. jauer

    October 09, 2010 03:31 PM

    Nick Scott, what on earth are you basing this on?

    Thanks, but I’ll stick by the rules when I evaluate umpires.

  28. jauer

    October 09, 2010 03:39 PM

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the point of the strike zone plot is to tell whether the umpire got a certain pitch right or wrong. Expanding the strike zone by four inches completely defeats the purpose of going through the time to plot a strike zone. Make the strike zone the rulebook strike zone, or don’t plot the graphs at all.

    “Oh, well it wasn’t a strike, but we’ll say the umpire got it right just because the majority of umpires are bad.”

    See the problem with this? If not, then there’s really no point in continuing this discussion.

  29. Scott G

    October 09, 2010 04:41 PM

    Nick Scott,

    “If you throw a ball withing that 2 ft box it will be called a strike more often than it is called a ball.”

    That’s because most of the box (17″-20″) are actually over the plate.

  30. Nick Scott

    October 10, 2010 12:57 PM

    revise: if you throw a ball ANYWHERE withing that box, it will be called a strike more often than not, that includes the 4″ edge which is being debated.

    Yes, it’s possibly an incorrect use of the 24″ zone when used to evaluate umpires. However using 2 iches on each side of the plate as a buffer zone due to:

    1. umpires usually calling those strikes
    2. error margin

    seem fine with me. If you don’t like it, then thats cool. It’s your prerogative.

  31. Scott G

    October 10, 2010 04:20 PM

    Your prerogative is wrong, though. The point of the box is to evaluate the umpire. Just because the majority of umpires (are you even sure that’s true?) might call balls in that 24″ zone a strike doesn’t mean it’s okay.

    If I go out there and pay all of the umpires to call people who are safe, out, and those who are out, safe, and I pay every umpire in the league to do so, does this mean that the calls are then correct? Absolutely not.

    Just because it’s a slight miss doesn’t make it okay.

  32. jauer

    October 10, 2010 05:39 PM

    While we’re at it, we should just make the foul poles 2 feet thicker, and make the foul lines 4 inches wider, due to human error.

    This is like an NBA referee reviewing a last-second shot: “Oh, well the clock hit zero while the ball was still in his hand, but due to error margin, the shot counts.”

    We’re not talking about a goddamn speed limit where 50 mph in a 45-zone is a “buffer.” This is a fucking business, and as much as I hate the cliche “game of inches”, it actually applies to this argument.

    If it isn’t over the plate, it’s not a strike.

    Matt Holliday didn’t touch home plate in 2007, but he close enough, right? Try telling that to Padres fans.

  33. Scott G

    October 10, 2010 10:03 PM

    Jauer,

    You know I’m on your side of this argument, but I just tried to tell that to Padres fans. I couldn’t find any.

  34. Nick Scott

    October 11, 2010 08:59 AM

    the other issue is that pitch f/x data only tracks the ball at the front of homeplate, thuse there is the possibility of a ball crossing the plate AFTER hitting the front plane of the plate. so the data you are looking at only gives you where the ball was at one instant of time, it doesn’t tell you whether it moved across the plate for a strike after that moment, which is possible.

    This data and this evaluation (which I’m not sure why its a discusssion on this post, and why I’m replyling since I didn’t even write that article), is subjective and therefore it is applicable to use a margin of error. I’d say that adding 2″ to each side of the plate is enough to give the benefit of the doubt.

    The decision whether to use the texbook strike-zone or the effective strike zone is certainly a discussion worth having, neither is exactly right or wrong, and both have benefits and negatives. One of the main benefits of the effective strike-zone is that nearly all pitch f/x websites use it and therefore the information is easier to get and utilize.

    And yes, if you pay the umpires to call outs safe and safes out, then that in fact does become the rule.

    “are you even sure that’s true?)”

    Yes, it’s true.

  35. Scott G

    October 11, 2010 02:04 PM

    No it doesn’t become the rule. I didn’t change the rulebook. I persuaded these apparently corrupt people into calling things the way I want them to be called.

    It’s not the same as having an incorrect strike zone due to error, but it’s a fair parallel. I.e. just because enough people do something incorrect doesn’t make it correct by default.

  36. jauer

    October 11, 2010 04:31 PM

    “the other issue is that pitch f/x data only tracks the ball at the front of homeplate, thuse there is the possibility of a ball crossing the plate AFTER hitting the front plane of the plate.”

    Good point, but it is very unlikely that a ball will miss the front of the plate but hit one of the edges. Sure it’s possible, but 2 inches is way too much of a “benefit of doubt.”

    The diameter of the baseball is 2.86 inches, which means the 20-inch strike zone (which assumes a 3-inch diameter) includes the extremely unlikely scenario you mentioned.

    A 20-inch strike zone should be the norm.

  37. jauer

    October 11, 2010 04:34 PM

    “I’d say that adding 2? to each side of the plate is enough to give the benefit of the doubt.”

    That’s just an outrageous statement. We’ve determined that the diameter of the ball is 3 inches and that the dots on the plot are the center of the ball. So, your “benefit of the doubt” is a 133% margin for error. Absurd.

  38. Nick Scott

    October 12, 2010 09:46 AM

    The point of the plot is to determine if pitchers threw into the strike zone or not. If those pitches are called strikes by the umpire, then they are effectively in the strike zone. If you want to judge an umpire, then it’s your call where to draw the line. Nobody is forcing you to use that box. Don’t use it, nobody cares. Draw your own box where you like it.

  39. Scott G

    October 12, 2010 11:08 AM

    Calling pitches is subjective. Umpires miss balls right down the middle way too frequently. Also, the thing about the “effective” strike zone is that it’s clearly not the same for all umps. Thus, it is unfair to judge pitchers on a wavering zone.

    If you’re using the plot to evaluate a pitcher, it’s not a good idea to see how he did in the past with one home plate umpire. If it’s used for a pitcher, it’s most likely to see how often he hit the ACTUAL strike zone, and just where he is placing his pitches.

    If it’s used to evaluate an umpire, whose job is to call balls and strikes as defined in the rulebook (20″ wide), then clearly a 24″ wide strike zone is not accurate. It doesn’t matter that most of these umpires are old, and can’t see that well, and as such call pitches off the plate strikes. That needs to be part of the evaluation process.

    Opinions can be wrong, and yours is in this case.

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