Right from the onset of the Blue Jays' 6-1 loss to the Red Sox, Halladay could tell he did not have a feel for his pitches. Combine that with a patient and potent team such as Boston, and it would be a long night for any pitcher, even one considered to be an expert at his craft.
"It was a grind," Halladay said. "You know you're going to have those. Most important for a starter, you can't throw in the towel in the first inning. You do everything you can to grind your way through it, but it was one of those where you're going in and you're missing away and just kind of searching for it.
"You hate for it to happen, and when it does, you can't give in."
Halladay stayed on the hill for the Blue Jays (55-63) for as long as he could, but manager Cito Gaston finally pulled the plug on the ace's outing after his pitch count soared to 103 after just five innings. Only three starts ago, Halladay used the same number of pitches to complete nine innings in a start against the Yankees.
It did not help matters that Toronto's offense suddenly went quiet one night after pouring out nine runs on 13 hits. The Blue Jays managed just one run over six innings against Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz (2-3) before being blanked for the final three frames by the Boston bullpen. The Jays' lone run came courtesy of an RBI single from Vernon Wells in the fourth.
Halladay (13-6) does not often need much support, but this night was an exception.
"That's probably the first time that's happened in a long time," said Gaston, referring to Halladay's abbreviated performance. "He just didn't have good location tonight -- command of his pitches -- and we weren't able to score any runs."
In fact, excluding injury-shortened appearances, it marked the first time that Halladay had not logged at least six innings in a start since June 14, 2008, against the Cubs -- a streak of 42 outings. It also ended Halladay's run of 70 straight non-injury-related starts with at least six innings against American League teams, dating back to a performance against the Red Sox on July 12, 2007.
Efficiency and durability are Halladay's trademarks. He just did not have it this time around.
"It happens," Halladay said. "When you're not very good, you're not going to get deep -- bottom line."
Halladay escaped the first inning unscathed, though he did issue a walk to Boston catcher Victor Martinez. Over his previous four starts, covering 32 innings, Halladay had only issued one free pass. In the second, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz jumped on a hanging curveball from Halladay and sent the 2-2 pitch over the right-field wall for a solo home run.
"With two strikes to good hitters, you can't leave it up like that," Halladay said. "So it was just really not a very good pitch to a good hitter."
Later in the inning, Boston's Casey Kotchman reached on an infield single and came around to score on a base hit from Alex Gonzalez. In both the third and fourth innings, Halladay gave up another two hits -- one being an RBI triple by Jacoby Ellsbury that pushed the Red Sox (68-51) out to a 3-0 lead in the fourth.
Kevin Youkilis opened the fifth inning by sending a pitch up the middle, where Jays second baseman Aaron Hill gloved the ball and fired errantly to first base. Lyle Overbay jumped and gloved the baseball, pulling his arm down quickly and tagging Youkilis just before he reached the bag. First-base umpire Greg Gibson ruled Youkilis safe, forcing Halladay to use a few more pitches.
"He was out," Gaston said matter-of-factly.
Two batters later, Jason Bay belted the first pitch he received from Halladay deep to left field for a two-run homer, putting Toronto behind, 5-1. Halladay then induced two quick groundouts to escape the inning, ending his night with five runs (four earned) allowed on eight hits with seven strikeouts and two walks.
Martinez added a solo homer off Blue Jays reliever Brandon League in the ninth.
"I just don't think that he located well," Gaston said of Halladay. "He got some pitches I'm pretty sure he'd like to get in a different spot there. The one thing about Doc is he usually has great control. He didn't have it tonight for sure."
That was evident, considering Halladay fell behind in the count to 13 of the 26 batters he faced. Over the first three innings, Halladay also threw a first-pitch strike to only five of the 15 Boston hitters. Entering Wednesday, Halladay had averaged 13.9 pitches per inning. Against Boston, he needed 20.6 pitches per frame.
Halladay said having such an off night was made worse by the fact that he was facing the Sox.
"It's amplified," he said. "Against good teams, you're not going to be able to get away with a lot of mistakes. Good teams make you pay more. Regardless, I think that I just did a bad job of pitching ahead and aggressively. I was always kind of behind, fighting my way through it."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.