His greatness a product of preparation and intensity

Before Game 1 of the World Series, I was talking to Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley about playing behind Clayton Kershaw.

Utley said only one pitcher could match Kershaw in intensity and preparation: Roy Halladay, his former teammate with the Phillies.

“He’s even better than I expected,” Utley said of Kershaw. “You see all the work he does between starts, and you really appreciate that. He definitely reminds me of Roy. Roy worked his butt off between starts, and that’s one reason both had so much success.”

You could see Utley’s eyes light up as he compared the two pitchers, one great player appreciating two other great ones. More than any other pitcher, Halladay was the bridge from the Hall of Fame generation of the mid-1990s and early 2000s — Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz — to the current generation of aces led by Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

Halladay, just 40 years old, died Tuesday in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving behind his wife and two sons.

“We are numb over the very tragic news about Roy Halladay’s untimely death,” the Phillies said in a statement. “There are no words to describe the sadness that the entire Phillies family is feeling over the loss of one of the most respected human beings to ever play the game.”

Halladay’s remarkable 10-year run from 2002 to 2011 was one of the best in recent decades. In those seasons — eight with the Blue Jays, the final two with the Phillies — Halladay went 170-75 with a 2.97 ERA, with most of those seasons coming in a high-offense environment. He won two Cy Young Awards, finished second twice and third once, made eight All-Star teams and led his league five times in strikeout-to-walk ratio. But perhaps nothing sums up Halladay’s work ethic better than these numbers: He led his league four times in innings and eight times in complete games. He pitched 63 complete games in that 10-year period, 30 more than any other pitcher in that span and more than Kershaw, Verlander and Scherzer have in their careers combined.

When you think of Halladay’s peak, you have to go back to his no-hitter against the Reds in the 2010 National League Division Series. It was only the second no-hitter in postseason history, after Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game. It was beautiful to watch, as he threw from a three-quarters delivery, mixing that running two-seam sinker with a cutter. He threw just 104 pitches and struck out eight, with only a fifth-inning walk keeping him from matching Larsen.

“Maybe someday — maybe in a month, maybe in a year, maybe in half a century or so — Roy Halladay will come to understand what he did Wednesday on a baseball field in Philadelphia,” Jayson Stark wrote after the game. “To say he pitched a baseball game that people will talk about for the rest of his life doesn’t truly capture the magnitude of it.”

Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz summed up Halladay’s stuff that night like this: “Oh, my god.”

That Halladay became a legendary pitcher wasn’t a sure thing, even though he was a first-round pick and nearly pitched a no-hitter in his second career start. After a solid rookie season in 1999 — when he went 8-7 with a 3.92 ERA — Halladay forgot how to pitch. His numbers in 2000 were beyond terrible. In 67 innings, he allowed 107 hits and had nearly as many walks (42) as strikeouts (44). His ERA of 10.64 is the worst ever by a pitcher with at least 50 innings.

In 2001, Halladay had to go all the way back down to Class-A Dunedin. He remade himself as a pitcher. He initially came up as an overhand four-seam fastball and curveball pitcher. In the minors, he dropped his arm slot and started throwing that two-seamer. With help from Mariano Rivera at an All-Star Game, he perfected a cutter. With Halladay leading the way, that style of pitching — sinkers and cutters — became a prominent method of attacking hitters. Of course, nobody did it as well as Halladay, who could paint the corners with movement and still have the velocity to induce swing-and-misses.

“I wanted to be Roy Halladay,” former All-Star pitcher Dan Haren tweeted. “Heartbroken, rest easy Doc.”

As other players tweeted, we felt the respect everyone had for Halladay.

“One of the best teammates ever,” Roy Oswalt tweeted.

“Blessed to have shared the field with you as a teammate, competitor, friend and more importantly a brother,” Shane Victorino tweeted.

Halladay is eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2019. He will appear on that ballot with Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Todd Helton, among others. In my book, he’s a pretty easy selection. A pitcher who dominated the sport for 10 years should be a Hall of Famer, even if he won “only” 203 games. His career WAR of 65.6 doesn’t quite scream automatic selection, but it’s comparable to that of other Hall of Famers such as Jim Palmer (68.1), Smoltz (66.5), Juan Marichal (61.9) and Don Drysdale (61.2).

The low win total will scare off some voters, but the dominance in Cy Young voting will help. Halladay threw a perfect game in the regular season and the playoff no-no. In some ways, he was the last of the workhorses, a guy who wanted to pitch all nine innings.

Yes, the end was sudden. After he finished second in the Cy Young voting in 2011 — Kershaw won, though Halladay probably deserved it, with an 8.9 WAR to Kershaw’s 6.5 — he came down with shoulder problems and pitched just two more seasons.

When he underwent surgery early in the 2013 season, he knew his career was on the edge.

“Nobody wants to go out on a bad note,” Halladay told Stark that May. “If you had your choice, you want to go out strong. Ideally, you want to go out as a world champion. But some of those things aren’t in your control.”

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