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With 14 K's, Halladay first to nine wins

With 14 K's, Halladay first to nine wins

TORONTO -- All Angels shortstop Maicer Izturis could do was watch as Roy Halladay's devastating curveball dropped into the strike zone for a called third strike to end the ninth inning on Tuesday night.

With that, Izturis became the ninth different hitter to fall victim to a Halladay strikeout, capping off a game in which Los Angeles' offense looked helpless against an array of sinkers, cutters and curveballs from the Blue Jays' ace.

Halladay won his ninth game of the year -- the most in the Majors -- as the Jays took the series opener over the Angels at Rogers Centre with a 6-4 victory. The score flattered the Angels, as all of their runs came in the seventh inning -- an aberration in an otherwise astounding game by Halladay.

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In his second complete game of the season, Halladay recorded a career-high 14 strikeouts -- the most by a Blue Jays pitcher since Roger Clemens fanned 15 Orioles on Sept. 21, 1998. That year, Clemens won his second consecutive American League Cy Young Award.

For Angels center fielder Torii Hunter -- who whiffed on a two-strike curveball in the second and was rung up twice after that -- Halladay's seven-hit, one-walk performance was one worthy of his nickname.

"Doc Halladay has surgery," Hunter said. "He was a doctor today. You have got to give it to him. He had surgery on all of us.

"He throws the ball in and out the zone, out and into the zone. He's one of the best at doing that. Some pitchers I own, and some pitchers own me, and he's definitely one of them."

All six swinging strikeouts Halladay recorded came on his curveball -- a hook with tremendous break that dove under the Angels' bats, flailing hopelessly in front of a pitch that clocked in a good 15 mph slower than Halladay's fastball.

"It was one of the best I've seen," Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas said of Halladay's curveball. "Doc, most of the time, he does have a good curveball. But, today, it was a little sharper. He was a little bit more consistent throwing it behind the count. Even there in the ninth inning, I'm calling it when he's behind in the count on 3-2 pitches, because I had confidence and I know he did, too."

Los Angeles did not do much better with Halladay's fastballs, which darted in and out of the strike zone. The Angels are known for being aggressive hitters, but were frozen at the plate, as Halladay punched out eight batters on called third strikes -- seven with heaters.

"A lot of guys, they're just kind of surprised," Barajas said. "The pitches that are coming in, they look like balls. I'm sure they go up and they look at the videos and the pitches aren't exactly where they thought they were going to end up, because he has so much late movement -- late life.

"What he's able to do with that baseball, it's like playing a video game for me. You put that target down and away, or you put that target in, and you know the man is going to go out there and execute his pitches. He's some kind of special."

Halladay dominated Los Angeles through the first six innings, allowing only two base hits, with eight strikeouts and five outs via ground ball during that span. The ball only made it to the outfield twice, as Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero flied to center field in the fourth inning and first baseman Kendry Morales lined out to left in the fifth.

At that point, the Jays (30-24) looked to be cruising to an easy victory. They opened the scoring in the third inning, when left fielder Jose Bautista lined a pitch from Joe Saunders, the starter for the Angels (25-25), into right-center field for a triple. That plated Barajas, who was able to score easily from first to put the Jays up, 1-0.

The Jays added a pair of runs in the fourth frame, which was highlighted by a solo home run off the bat of right fielder Alex Rios -- his second shot in as many games. Toronto tacked on another three runs in the sixth, pushing the club's advantage to 6-0.

After Halladay's lights-out performance in the first six frames, the seventh was a different story.

Halladay gave up two hits and issued a walk to load the bases to open the seventh. One single, wild pitch and two sacrifice flies later, the Angels had cut Toronto's lead down to 6-4. Halladay needed 26 pitches to get out of the inning -- four fewer than he threw in the first three innings combined.

"I just didn't make pitches," Halladay said. "I fell behind to start off the inning and got myself in some hitter counts. So it obviously wasn't ideal. It's tough to pitch from behind in the count, when you walk a guy to load the bases. Not a good situation."

Despite the rough inning, Halladay came out for the eighth as sharp as he had been all night, fanning the Angels for five of the last six outs and inducing a groundout off the bat of Angels third baseman Chone Figgins for the other.

"He went in the dugout and he was clearly bothered," Barajas said of Halladay after the seventh inning. "He wasn't satisfied with what he had done up to that point and he was really disappointed in how that inning went. When I saw that he was going back out there, I knew the Angels were going to be in trouble."

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston had similar faith in Halladay's ability to make a quick recovery from the seventh inning. As long as Halladay felt fine, Gaston would throw him back out for the eighth.

"Most guys wouldn't have got out of that inning," Gaston said. "But great pitchers seem to find a way to get out of it, or reach back and get a little bit more, make better pitches and get themselves out of it. So that's what he did."

It was unusual for a team to have so much trouble making contact with Halladay's pitches. The right-hander usually works by getting hitters to ground out, as they're unable to make solid contact with balls that flit away at the last second. That's how Halladay has managed to keep his pitch counts down over the years -- Tuesday's effort required Halladay to toss a career-high 133 pitches.

Still, Halladay will take the strikeouts.

"I think you still try and pitch to contact, you try and get ahead, but as soon as you get ahead you try and put them away," Halladay said. "I think that never changes."

Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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