TORONTO — Minus the angst and the emotional outpouring this time, Roy Halladay once again made what may have been his final start in Toronto as a member of the Blue Jays.
And boy was it a gem.
The ace right-hander, who was put on the trade market in July and may be shopped again this winter, threw his major-league leading eighth complete game Friday night and was backed by Aaron Hill’s two-run homer in a 5-0 win over the Seattle Mariners.
A crowd of 20,668 watched Halladay improve to 16-10 and tip his cap to the fans as he walked into the dugout. The atmosphere was vastly different from that during a pair of July home starts, when speculation ran wild around the 32-year-old.
The thought of losing the club cornerstone prompted fans to show how much he meant to them, offering him standings ovations as he took to the mound July 19 versus Boston and on the 24th versus Tampa Bay, along with repeated shouts encouraging him to stay.
Expressions of that affection have faded back to normal since the trade deadline passed without a move, but as the franchise grapples with which direction to take the club over the coming years, Halladay’s return in 2010 is far from assured.
"You have to do what makes sense," manager Cito Gaston said before the game. "If it makes sense to bring him back, if you’ve got a chance to win next year or certainly get a wild card then, hey, you would think about hanging on to Doc. If you didn’t, you would maybe think it is time to move him and get something for him while you can."
Allowing him to go out a winner in this latest possible home finale wasn’t easy for the Blue Jays (70-84), who didn’t manage a hit off rookie Doug Fister (2-4) until Edwin Encarnacion’s one-out single in the fifth.
It took them another inning to break through, when Jose Bautista opened the frame with a single and came around on Hill’s 32nd homer of the season. Encarnacion nearly doubled the lead three batters later, but just got under a Fister offering and flew out to the wall in left-centre.
Bautista added a two-run single in the seventh and Lyle Overbay an RBI double in the eighth to extend the lead and effectively put away the Mariners (80-74).
Halladay, whose final start of the season is scheduled for Wednesday in Boston, did the rest, allowing just seven hits, walking none and striking out nine. He matched Zack Grienke for the big-league lead with three shutouts.
A lack of run-support has plagued Halladay of late, as he’d gone 2-5 in his previous seven decisions. Often, one bad pitch has cost him and in his 10 losses this season, the Blue Jays have managed a mere 22 runs.
Those factors have left him a longshot in the race for the AL Cy Young Award. Grienke, Seattle’s Felix Hernandex and CC Sabathia of the Yankees are widely considered the front-runners.
Notes: Apparently freedom of speech is limited at the Rogers Centre. Security confiscated a sign that read "Fire J.P." — a reference to beleaguered GM J.P. Ricciardi, from a group of fans in the upper deck. … Mariners 1B Russell Branyan (back) took batting practice before the game but wasn’t ready to play.