Prior to taking the mound on Sunday afternoon, the Blue Jays' ace stepped out of the bullpen beyond the wall in left field at Rogers Centre and slowly made his way toward the dugout. As Halladay walked closer to the stands down the third-base line, more and more fans began to shift to their feet and clap.
Following a complete-game gem that led the Jays to a 3-1 victory over the Red Sox, Halladay headed off the field, and this time, it seemed as if everyone in attendance rose from their seats. In a mutual show of appreciation, Halladay answered the cheers by raising his hat high in the air, a more substantial wave than the stoic pitcher has offered in the past.
"They might've thought they saw him pitch here for the last time," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said.
Given the current flood of rumors surrounding Halladay as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline nears, Toronto fans aren't the only ones wondering if Halladay has thrown his final outing in a Blue Jays uniform.
Inside Toronto's clubhouse, where the ballclub is dealing with a two-month slide that has sent it reeling from first to fourth place in the American League East, the players can't help but think about Halladay's future. As Jays catcher Rod Barajas squeezed a 92-mph cutter in his glove, completing a game-ending strikeout against Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury, the thought crossed his mind.
Might that have been the last pitch Barajas has received from Halladay?
"You hear the rumors," Barajas said. "There were some rumors last year -- you heard a little bit -- but nothing like it is this year. You're thinking that there's a possibility that it could possibly happen. He's the best pitcher I've ever had a chance to catch. Absolutely, I thought about it.
"I was hoping he'd have an unbelievable performance, something I could remember when I look back at my time here in Toronto. It definitely goes through your head. I hope it's not the last time. Everybody in this clubhouse hopes it's not the last time."
Halladay is penciled in for two more starts with the Jays (46-47) before the Trade Deadline: on Friday at home against Tampa Bay and on July 29 on the road against Seattle. While he future is uncertain -- general manager J.P. Ricciardi has made it known that the Jays will listen to offers for the ace -- Halladay definitely gave those on hand something to remember
|"There were some rumors last year -- you heard a little bit -- but nothing like it is this year. You're thinking that there's a possibility that it could possibly happen. He's the best pitcher I've ever had a chance to catch."|
|-- Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas|
Barajas provided Halladay with all the support he required with a two-run double off Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester in the second inning. In the sixth, Barajas added an insurance run with a sacrifice fly that pushed Toronto to a 3-1 lead.
The result was Toronto's first back-to-back wins since June 23-24, the club's first series victory over an AL East rival since May 29-31 and Halladay's first win since June 7. Halladay improved to 11-3 with a 2.73 ERA in notching his fourth complete game of the year. Since the start of the 2002 season, he's gone 124-52 with a 3.15 ERA for Toronto, the only organization he's ever known.
"You saw Doc at his best out there again," Gaston marveled. "When he smells the finish line, he knows how to finish. When he's in trouble, sometimes he knows how to get out of it. Otherwise, he would not have been the pitcher he's been over his career. He knows how to reach back and get a little bit more and hit his spots and pitch like the Hall of Famer that I think he's going to be."
Halladay might have been forgiven for being mentally drained after the events of the past two weeks.
After it was revealed that Toronto was willing to explore trading Halladay, he was named the starter for the AL in the All-Star Game. The timing created a media storm around the soft-spoken pitcher when he arrived in St. Louis for the Midsummer Classic. For Halladay, a creature of routine, he looked at it as a chance to address the rumors once before moving on with his season.
"I really believe that just being able to kind of handle it at the All-Star Game, as much as a circus as that was, it kind of allowed me to get back here and just kind of put it out of mind and get back to my job," Halladay said. "I think if you kind of skate around it at that point, it's going to be more that you're going to have to deal with later.
"It was hard. It was hard to do, the whole thing. There was so much going on. It was one of those overwhelming moments in your life, but I felt like once I got back here, I'd be able to put it behind me and go out and take care of my job."
On the field, Halladay looked to have effectively put the speculation to the side for the time being. That doesn't mean that the trade rumors aren't affecting his family off the diamond.
On Saturday, during the fifth inning of Toronto's 6-2 win over Boston, Halladay's wife, Brandy, stepped into the radio booth to promote the Lady Jays charity food drive being run by the players' wives and girlfriends. The talk eventually turned to the reality at hand -- that the Halladay family could have a new home in the near future.
"This very well could be our last homestand," Brandy Halladay said on The FAN590. "If something happens before the Trade Deadline, I won't be back. That's difficult. That's more than difficult. I just broke into tears four minutes ago. ... It's very difficult for everybody. ... You're making me cry now."
For Blue Jays fans, as well for the Halladay family, it is an emotional time. It made one wonder if Halladay's emphatic hat tip following his latest gem had any extra meaning behind it.
"No," Halladay said. "For me, I've put it behind me for now. It's important that I focus on my job. You can't worry about the future. You can't think about the future. You have to kind of live in the moment, so that's all I'm trying to do. It has nothing to do with looking down the road.
"It's just a matter of the fans were excited, they were cheering and that's all it was. Really, for me, you take it day to day right now. I know it's a cliche, but I think it's especially true."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.