As he made the familiar trot from the dugout onto the field, soaking in the adulation from the 47,000-plus at Rogers Centre, Roy Halladay could not help but playfully toe the rubber as he crossed the pitcher’s mound.
Wishful thinking, Doc, wishful thinking.
And it wasn’t the only time the former Blue Jays pitching great got caught up in pie-in-the-sky meanderings during a celebratory return to Toronto on Sunday.
“I would have given my left arm to have the team we have now,” Halladay said earlier during an interview. “I mean, it would have been a dream come true the last four years to do this here.”
It was a day on which the Blue Jays honoured several of their former pitching greats before they played the wrap-up game of their weekend series against the Houston Astros.
And the current Blue Jays did their part to maintain the festive atmosphere, turning on the power with home runs by Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin and Edwin Encarnacion to spank the Astros 9-2 to maintain their slender half-game grip on first place in the American League East.
The Blue Jays won the series 2-1.
And we can’t forget to mention an outstanding acrobatic catch by Martin, diving over the fence in front of the Houston dugout in the seventh inning to pluck a foul pop from Alex Bregman.
Somewhere, Kevin Pillar, the injured Toronto centre fielder, was beaming.
Before the game, the Blue Jays dealt the nostalgia card again, and the public lapped it up, providing the club with its 28th sellout of the season.
One by one before the game, pitching heroes from days past trotted onto the field to stand beside waist-high creations of their old uniform numbers, crafted out of baseballs.
Juan Guzman, Mike Timlin, Duane Ward, Tom Henke, Dave Stieb and Pat Hentgen were already standing on the field when Halladay’s name was finally called and the ovation was heartfelt.
While many historians would give the nod to Stieb as being the most dominant pitcher in franchise history (103 complete games – are you kidding me?!), Halladay is certainly there in a photo finish.
Halladay has a .661 success rate for every time he stalked to the mound, amassing 148 wins and a Cy Young Award as the top pitcher in the AL in 2003.
But Halladay never got to the playoffs in Toronto, and it took a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies before he was able to fulfill that dream, making the postseason in 2010 and again in 2011.
Halladay retired following the 2013 season, having played the final four years of his career with the Phillies. But if he ever gets the nod to Cooperstown, Halladay said it will be in a Blue Jays hat.
And when he looks at the state of a Toronto franchise that is churning toward a second consecutive playoff appearance in as many years, Halladay professes to be envious.
“I’ve been a bit jealous for the past two years,” Halladay said. “This is what we always wanted. I think what really turned the corner was going after the guys they went after at the trade deadline last year.
“Before, we never had that ability to go get those guys in the second half. Last year they go get some good players, all of a sudden it turns around the whole feeling of the city and everything. And that allows them to bring some more in to start the season and keep it going.”
Last season at the July 31 trade deadline, the Blue Jays added the likes of Tulowitzki and David Price and went on a run that captured the team its first AL East pennant since 1993.
Halladay said something like that never occurred during his tenure as a Blue Jay.
“We were in first one year and we were going into the break and we didn’t get anybody,” Halladay said.
“And I remember we were all kind of really dejected when we came back because the Yankees got two or three guys, the Red Sox got two or three guys and that pretty much was the end of us.”
On Sunday, back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning by Tulowitzki, a two-run shot, and Martin, his second in as many games, broke open what had been a tight 2-1 game in Toronto’s favour.
It provided a nice cushion for Marcus Stroman, the Toronto starter who limited the opposition to one earned run for the third time over his past five starts, to get the victory to improve to 9-5.
The Blue Jays hit the road for six games, beginning Monday in New York against the Yankees.
Robert MacLeod, The Canadian Press via The Globe and Mail | Photo: Tom Szczerbowski, Getty Images
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