On this day two years ago, the Philadelphia Flyers were riding their magical postseason run to the Stanley Cup Finals, their first appearance in the final round since being swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 1997. The Flyers were hot, taking out the second seeded New Jersey Devils in round one, followed by the comeback of all comebacks against the Boston Bruins, and a quick series against the Montreal Canadiens to advance to meet the Chicago Blackhawks.
Philadelphia vs. Chicago. It was a stage set for a fantastic Stanley Cup Finals match-up, with game one scheduled for May 29 in Chicago. With Flyer mania running wild throughout the Delaware Valley, everybody was going to be tuning in for Game One with hopes of getting out to a quick start to the first Stanley Cup victory since 1975.
But, oddly enough, not even the hard core Flyers fans could help but flip the channel or glance at the score of a regular season baseball game in Miami that night. It was not just because Roy Halladay was pitching.
It was because Halladay was pitching a gem like no other.
The Flyers had taken the upper hand in a wild first period, entering the first intermission with a 3-2 lead, and the scoring frenzy continued with a back-and-forth second period with a 5-5 tie at the second intermission. But down in Miami there was little scoring in a classic pitcher’s duel between the Phillies’ new ace, Roy Halladay, and the Florida Marlins ace Josh Johnson.
Halladay started the night with two quick strikeouts of Chris Coghlan and Gaby Sanchez, followed by a ground-out of Hanely Ramirez. His second inning also started with a pair of strikeouts, this time to Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla, before getting Cody Ross to ground out to third base. The Phillies scratched out a run in the top of the third inning when Chase Utley reached safely thanks to an error in the outfield. Wilson Valdez, who had singled to center field prior to Utley’s at-bat, scored on the play while Utley was able to advance to third base. It would be the only run scored by the Phillies on the night, as Utley was stranded following an intentional walk to Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez each struck out to end the inning.
No matter, for it would be enough for Halladay on this night.
From there, Halladay was in complete control with Carlos Ruiz behind the plate. A weak pop fly here, a hopeless grounder there, and a strikeout from time to time. As time passed the attention shifted from not just Philadelphia, but the entire baseball world, as Halladay worked inning by inning without allowing a base runner. Five innings in the books, no Marlins able to reach first base. Six innings down, still nothing from Florida.
As the sixth and seventh innings passed by the question was not if Halladay would allow a runner, but what in the world the sports editors in Philadelphia would do on a night that was supposed to be all about hockey in Chicago. Even the Flyers beat reporters were glued to their computers watching the updates from the press box at the United Center. The Flyers in the Finals was a big deal, but what Halladay was doing 1,367 miles south was historic.
As the game reached the eighth inning televisions in the Philadelphia area were switching to the baseball game, not wanting to miss a moment of Halladay’s magic. Fortunately intermission in the hockey game was helping out by coming up at the best possible time. A weak ground-out of Cantu, a strikeout of Uggla and a Ross pop-fly got Halladay to the ninth inning without a blemish on the score sheet. Still, the pressure was on to keep the perfection going, as the Phillies bats were hitless against the Marlins bullpen for the final two innings, clinging to a 1-0 lead. Halladay could not afford a mistake. And he did not make one.
The Marlins were desperate for something, because they really were still in the game, down one run in the bottom of the ninth. Mike Lamb entered the game as a pinch hitter for Brett Hayes and he smacked a 2-1 pitch to deep center field, where Shane Victorino had enough room to track it down in the massive outfield. One down.
Wes Helms, a former Phillies player and even more of an historic Phillies-killer as an opponent, was used as a second pinch hitter, for Cameron Maybin. Halladay got ahead of Helms and struck him for the second out.
Ronny Paulino, the Phillies spring training catcher who was let go not all that long ago, was the third pinch hitter of the night for Marlins skipper Fredi Gonzalez, using every available option he had to try and get a hit. Of course, it was to no avail, as Paulino hit a weak grounder to shortstop, where Juan Castro had to make a good throw to Howard at first base to record the final out of the 20th perfect game in Major League Baseball history. It was 27 up, 27 down for a 1-0 win.
Oh, and the Flyers lost game one of the Stanley Cup Finals that night.