"I hate to use hyperbole, but he's an ace among aces," first baseman Joey Votto said. "It's not fun being up there trying to hit nothing. Tonight was a nothing night. Sometimes you just don't get pitches to hit."
And so, 15 years after their last trip to the postseason, the Reds are still in search of their first playoff hit since Eddie Taubensee beat out an infield single to the pitcher's mound on October 14, 1995. Cincinnati's starter that day was Pete Schourek.
Weak ground balls were about all the Reds could produce off Halladay on Wednesday. Try as they might, they could do nothing to rattle his imperturbable rhythm. When they swung early, he had them swinging through breaking balls. When they took pitches, he had them in 0-2 counts. When Votto stepped out of the box to interrupt Halladay's flow, he only delayed the out that was all but inevitable in each Cincinnati at-bat.
"I don't think anything we did would have mattered," Votto said. "He does a very good job of paying attention to us -- sticking to his gameplan but also adjusting on the fly."
The Reds tipped their collective cap to Halladay, admiring the control of all four of his pitches on each side of the plate.
Rolen, who struck out in all three of his at-bats, openly wondered how many more chances it would have taken for him to finally put the ball in play.
"He's the best pitcher in baseball in my opinion," he said, "but he went to another level out there."
"The most ideal situation is to throw all of your pitches for strikes. He did that," said Jonny Gomes, who struck out twice and grounded to third. "And then throw all your pitches for strikes on both sides of the plate. And he did that. Doc's got about three, four pitches you've got to worry about. When he's commanding them on both sides of the plate, it turns into about seven, eight or nine pitches."
That number of effective pitches easily exceeded the number of actual mistakes Halladay made on Wednesday, which could likely be counted on one hand, if not one finger. Votto said he had one pitch to hit all night, and he took it early in the game. Drew Stubbs fouled his opportunity back in the fifth.
"He threw 25 balls," said Jay Bruce, the one player to reach base with a full-count walk in the fifth. "He didn't give us anything. He just didn't make any mistakes."
"Anytime he makes any type of mistake, which is very rare, he makes his mistakes in the safe zone," Votto explained. "If he misses, he misses inside, away or down. He doesn't miss in the middle of the plate. He doesn't miss where we could do some damage."
The evidence of that was in the limited number of balls the Reds hit with what could be termed authority. Pitcher Travis Wood's sinking line drive to right in the third was the only ball that, off the bat, threatened to drop in the outfield. In the fourth, Votto hit a hard grounder in the hole at short that Jimmy Rollins made a strong throw on, and pinch-hitter Juan Francisco's sixth-inning chopper up the middle was also handled by the Philadelphia shortstop.
In making history, Halladay also repeated a little of it. The last no-hitter to be thrown against the Reds was by a fellow Phillie -- Rick Wise did it for Philadelphia on June 23, 1971 in Cincinnati. Wise, like Halladay, also collected more hits himself at the plate than he allowed and drove in a run. To be fair, Wise did one-up Halladay in one respect: He drove in three runs on a pair of homers in that game.
It's the ninth time in franchise history the Reds have been no-hit and, obviously, the first time in their playoff history. The first person to no-hit them was Cy Young, and Cincinnati is one of only two teams to ever win a game without recording a hit, a feat it pulled in 1964 against Houston's Ken Johnson.
But as much as they tipped their cap to Halladay on Wednesday, they looked forward to Friday, for a chance at a little revenge and redemption -- and to hit their way to first base.