For anyone who asked why the Philadelphia Phillies bothered to acquire Roy Halladay only to trade Cliff Lee, what occurred Saturday night offered one plausible answer.
Halladay threw a perfect game against the Marlins, in a 1-0 Phillies victory. Halladay was obtained to be a dominant pitcher. His performance against the Marlins was very close to being the logical extension of the rest of his work. He approaches perfection much more frequently than the rest of the pitching world.
Halladay was arguably the best starter in baseball, with or without this perfect game. This gives him another level of achievement, and makes the rest of us pause once again to notice how great Roy Halladay is.
His work this year, with the exception of one start -- notably the one immediately preceding the perfect game -- has been at the lofty level the Phillies hoped for when they got him from the Blue Jays in December.
Halladay has, for instance, five complete games in 11 starts. There will be Major League teams that will finish the 2010 season with fewer complete games than Halladay has recorded in the first two months of the season.
The Marlins pressed every button in sight to end the mastery on Saturday night, but there was no cure for it. They sent up three pinch-hitters in the ninth inning to no avail. Mike Lamb flied out to the edge of the warning track in center leading off the ninth, but that ball did not have damage written all over it. Wes Helms was called out on strikes. Ronnie Paulino ended the suspense with a groundout to third. Halladay had covered the perfect-game distance in 115 pitches. He struck out 11.
Perfect games are suitably rare. This was just the 20th in baseball history, although we may seem on the verge of a perfecto epidemic with Dallas Braden of the Athletics achieving the feat as recently as May 9. The difference with Halladay is that on any given start you expect him to be not all that distant from perfection.
Roy Halladay came close to pitching a no-hitter prior to achieving the feat with the Phillies, having tossed two complete-game one-hitters and four two-hitters during his time with the Blue Jays.
Blue Jays 6, Yankees 0
Blue Jays 5, Yankees 0
Blue Jays 4, Twins 0
Blue Jays 8, Rockies 0
Blue Jays 5, Indians 0
Blue Jays 2, Tigers 1
This was his third shutout of the season and the fourth time he had given up no earned runs. He has walked none in three starts. He has a complete-game three-hitter this season. The only game in which he was roughed up to the extent that he gave up more earned runs than innings pitched was May 23 against Boston. All that meant was that his ERA rose from incredible to merely terrific. (After the perfect game, he was back at a 1.99 ERA for the season with a 7-3 record.)
So of Halladay's 11 starts this season, seven have been far better than merely good, one has been just adequate, two have been measurably less than his best work, and one has been literal perfection. That is the work of an ace.
And that is why the Phillies, believing that Lee was going to be extremely expensive to re-sign, made in two deals what was essentially a rotation swap, getting Halladay, giving up Lee. As good as Lee was -- and he was dominant when it mattered most, in the 2009 postseason -- Philadelphia also believed that Halladay was still an upgrade.
The fact that Lee has made only six starts this season, after missing time due to an abdominal strain, does not even have to enter into the equation. Lee will be a major asset for the Mariners, and if Seattle trades him, he will be a major asset for somebody else. But Halladay will be an even bigger asset for the Phillies.
The perfect game will be a part of this ongoing discussion. Halladay didn't need this to prove his worth. This is one more very large indication of how much greatness is at his command. When you tell somebody that Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game for the Phillies on Saturday night, the one reaction you will not get is shock. This kind of greatness, it turns out, is also within his range.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.