On this afternoon against the Orioles, the Blue Jays performed like they did over the season's first few months, when the offense was prolific and the skillful Halladay used that to his advantage. Times definitely have changed, but Toronto's 7-3 victory over Baltimore certainly seemed to relieve Halladay of the stress he's felt over the past few weeks.
"We scored some runs early for me," Halladay said. "That makes a big difference."
Does it ever.
The Blue Jays (53-57) used a trio of home runs, which all came in the first three innings, to power their way to an early 5-2 advantage. That already was more offensive help than Halladay had received in any of his previous five starts. When Toronto padded its lead with two more runs in the seventh, the ace suddenly had his most support since May 27.
The recent lack of aid had made for tightly contested games, making it increasingly difficult for Halladay to pick up wins. It also created a situation in which he knew that every misstep -- no matter how minute -- could prove extremely costly. In this effort against the Orioles (46-65), Halladay finally had a little room to breathe.
"You try to pitch the same, but it's definitely different," said Halladay. "You realize that mistakes probably won't cost you as much. You go at it the same. When you do give up a run or two, though, it's not as frustrating afterwards. It's definitely nice having that cushion. You have more room for error."
Across his first 11 starts of the season, the Blue Jays' offense provided Halladay with 78 runs, helping the right-hander post an 8-1 record. In the 11 starts since, including Sunday's seven-run outburst, Toronto has given Halladay just 38 runs and he's limped to a 4-4 mark.
"We just didn't score enough runs for Doc," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "A couple of runs, three runs, that's quite a strain at times. He's been dealing with that for a few years here. Starting the season out, we did score him some runs, and it looked like he was going to cruise to an easy 20 wins."
With the victory over Baltimore, Halladay improved to 12-5 with a 2.73 ERA this season. With 11 starts remaining on his schedule, reaching 20 victories for the third time in his career is an attainable goal. In order to achieve that milestone, though, Halladay will need his offense to show up like it did on Sunday more often.
In the second inning, Kevin Millar sent a 1-0 offering from Orioles rookie Brian Matusz deep to left field for a solo home run that knotted the score, 1-1. An inning later, Marco Scutaro and Vernon Wells each added two-run blasts off Matusz to send the Jays to a 5-2 lead with two outs and help chase the young left-hander from the game in the process.
"In a lot of cases, when you score early, you kind of take the wind out of the other team," Halladay said. "It's obviously harder to come back offensively when you're down. That part makes a big difference. It's a mental grind for them after that. That probably plays more into it than anything.
"I know, from our side, obviously it's tough when you're in a hole and you have to come back. It's nice to put them in that situation."
It becomes an even bigger mental grind when a team is charged with the task of coming back against someone of Halladay's caliber. The right-hander logged eight innings -- marking the 10th time this season he's gone at least that long -- and surrendered three runs. Only two were earned, due to an error by Scutaro at shortstop in the third.
Halladay allowed nine hits, only struck out four and even issued a walk. The fourth-inning free pass to Aubrey Huff ended the pitcher's run of 77 straight batters without a walk and 51 consecutive hitters without slipping to a three-ball count. Despite the many baserunners, Halladay held Baltimore at bay, inducing 17 outs via grounders, including three double plays.
"Halladay, for some reason, he minimizes the damage," said Orioles center fielder Adam Jones. "We gave up a four-spot [in the third]. He scattered three runs over eight innings. If we were able to get that three- or four-spot, that could change the game, but he minimized our damage."
That helped Halladay improve to 20-4 with a 2.89 ERA against Baltimore in his career.
"This is probably as well as we've swung the bat against Halladay," said Orioles manager Dave Trembley, "and probably our best chance. I thought we had some really good swings against him and had some very good at-bats. But he's one of the game's premier pitchers."
True, but Halladay can't always do it alone.
"It's the first time he's had some run support in a long time," Gaston said. "It certainly feels good for me to see that happen for Doc."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.