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Halladay, Lincecum chasing greatness one pitch at a time


PHILADELPHIA -- Gunslinger West vs. Gunslinger East. Cy Young Past vs. Cy Young Future. Tim Lincecum's "The Freak" vs. Roy Halladay's "I couldn't tell you what I call myself."

"I guess we just go with Doc," says the Phillies' Cole Hamels, MVP of the 2008 World Series. "Doctor Serious."

It's on. The most hotly anticipated postseason pitching duel in years, locked in for Game 1 of the NL Championship Series here Saturday night, Lincecum, winner of the last two Cy Youngs, against Halladay, the hands-down favorite to win this year's NL Cy.

"The matchup is amazing," Giants outfielder -- and former Phillie -- Aaron Rowand says. "These are two guys coming off the greatest games of their careers."

And the best place to begin is at the end.

Can Lincecum blast his way anywhere near a two-hit, 14-strikeout shutout again?

Should the idea that Halladay could throw another no-hitter even be within the realm of rational thought?

Better yet, will either one even still be in the game in the ninth inning?

Roy Halladay's coming off a postseason no-hitter. (Getty Images)  
Roy Halladay's coming off a postseason no-hitter. (Getty Images)  
"Quite honestly, I'm going to say something real bold here: It would not shock me if he joined the likes of Johnny Vander Meer and went back-to-back in the postseason with no-hitters," former Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays ace Jack Morris was saying on a conference call Friday morning. "That's the kind of stuff that he possesses. I know it's a far-fetched idea, but every time he takes the mound, he has that ability."

Morris is another reason why it's best to begin at the end with this marquee Lincecum-Halladay duel. Because he played a starring role in one of the best October stories ever, one that also involves something Charlie Manuel, manager of the pitching-rich Phillies, and Bruce Bochy, skipper of the pitching-rich Giants, will be dealing with in Game 1 Saturday and the rest of this series:

Managing that ever-so-sensitive point when the game forks and a skipper must either leave it in the hands of a tiring ace, or take the ball and turn things over to the bullpen.

In Minnesota last week before one of the Twins-Yankees games, Morris was recounting that moment after he had dispatched the Braves in the ninth inning of a 0-0 Game 7 during the 1991 World Series. Then-Twins manager Tom Kelly walked down to Morris in the dugout, patted his shoulder and told him nice job. Morris immediately snarled something along the lines that he damn well wasn't leaving this game.

Kelly walked a few steps back down the dugout and engaged pitching coach Dick Such in conversation. Then he turned back toward Morris and uttered that immortal sentence: "What the hell, it's only a game."

Translation: Go get 'em, Jack.

And Morris did, winning a 1-0, 10-inning decision that remains one of the greatest postseason pitching performances ever.

Now, nobody here is comparing Game 1 of the NLCS to Game 7 of the World Series. But what Lincecum and Halladay each did in his postseason debut was remarkable enough to also rank on the list of greatest pitching performances in postseason history.

Halladay threw only the second postseason no-hitter in baseball history, joining Don Larsen, who authored a perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.

Lincecum's 14 strikeouts equaled Mike Scott for third all-time in a postseason game, just three behind Bob Gibson's 17 in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series.

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Lincecum, who finished with 119 pitches, was so dominant that Bochy says there was "no question" he was going to start the ninth.

"It comes down to a feel on the pitchers," Bochy says. "Every game is a little different, how much they have to labor, the innings, the pitches, how they go. And so as far as managing the game, we'll let out pitchers go if we think they're fine. ...

"I don't think we've ever really babied this kid. He's shown that he can go long innings and pitches."

Halladay has led his league in complete games, including this year (nine). Add a 10th for his maiden voyage into the postseason, and who knows what the guy could produce next?

"He stays around the zone, and everything is nasty," says Aubrey Huff, whose 66 at-bats against Halladay is by far the most in the San Francisco lineup (Huff is 17 for 66, .258, against Halladay with no homers, one double, five RBI, five walks and 13 strikeouts). "I've got 60-some at-bats against him and I don't think I have a homer, and, what, one double?

"You've got to take what he gives you. A single the other way, a broken bat up the middle, something."

When Kelly told Morris "it's only a game", the degree of difficulty in his decision to leave his ace in the game did not include something both Manuel and Bochy will face in Game 1 -- and beyond -- in this series: That Game 7 was played in the Metrodome, an American League park, and as such, both the Twins and Braves used a designated hitter.

Even so, Braves manager Bobby Cox removed Smoltz after 7 1/3 innings in favor of lefty Mike Stanton. Smoltz, on the same conference call with Morris on Friday, says, "I remember if I didn't have such respect for my manager, I would have caused a scene. I couldn't believe I was coming out. I had had success against Kirby Puckett [due to hit next]."

Smoltz said that the only thing that eased the sting was that Cox already had decided to issue an intentional walk to Puckett, wanting the lefty Stanton to face the left-handed Kent Hrbek (it worked, as Hrbek lined into an inning-ending double play).

Tim Lincecum is coming off a two-hit, 14 K performance. (Getty Images)  
Tim Lincecum is coming off a two-hit, 14 K performance. (Getty Images)  
As Halladay and Lincecum duel in Game 1 here Saturday, they will be batting, of course, as well. Which brings with it the potential that, if it plays out as expected as a tight, low-scoring game, Manuel or Bochy likely will have to agonize along about the seventh inning whether to pinch-hit for the pitcher or let him hit to keep him on the mound.

"Doc's got a hell of a resume," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee says. "He may have a little more leeway as far as staying in the game, yeah."

Both Morris and Smoltz, among the fiercest competitors of their era, loved seeing Halladay and Lincecum knock off complete games in their postseason debuts.

Morris, who says it was a "mindset" for him, adds, "whoever the guy is who first came up with pitch count tried to make a name for himself. In my opinion, it's failed. The idea was to make pitchers more proficient with their pitches, and it's a great idea. If you can make eight-, nine-, 10-pitch innings, that's the way to pitch. ... But we've conditioned guys not to be in condition."

Says Smoltz: "There's no excuse to not be able to be in shape to throw 130, 140 pitches, but we've gotten into this mindset from some computer guy that thinks there’s a way to save the investment of a pitcher. And it's backfiring, and it will backfire. ...

"When a guy is dominating a game, it's a manager's job, and the hardest job is sometimes, even though you've got a great closer, [the Braves in Game 1] had no chance against Lincecum. And sometimes when you bring in a change, you give the team the feeling like, 'Well now we've got a chance.'"

With pitchers as great as Halladay and Lincecum, it very well can come down to a mind game.

"The fact that we beat them last time gives everybody confidence," Rowand said of the 5-1 defeat the Giants handed Halladay in late April (Halladay allowed five earned runs and 10 hits in seven innings). "And in the back of his mind, he's got to be thinking, 'Those guys beat me the last time we played."

Assuming Halladay wins the Cy Young award in November -- and the assumption that should be as easy as that of an elementary schooler liking Hershey bars -- this will be the first time an LCS game pits a reigning Cy Young winner against Cy on-deck since 1991, when Pittsburgh's Doug Drabek (the '90 winner) opened against Tom Glavine ('91).

It's also only happened twice before, in 1986, when the Mets' Dwight Gooden faced Houston's Scott, and in 1970, when the Twins' Jim Perry faced Baltimore's Mike Cuellar.

Halladay, then a 15-year-old kid growing up in Colorado, watched that Morris-Smoltz classic on television on that Sunday evening in 1991.

"I don't know if I can remember one as good as that," he says. "Hearing Jack's side, wanting to go out for that extra inning, not to be outdone, that's pretty impressive. That's definitely special. ...

"You never know when those games are going to happen. And that's the beauty of it."


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