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Gillick recalls Halladay’s development from raw prospect to playoff ace

Pat Gillick was at Citizens Bank Park for that classic pitchers’ duel in 2011. The Philadelphia Phillies hosted the St. Louis Cardinals in a winner-take-all Game 5 of the National League Division Series and you couldn’t have dreamed up a better mound matchup.

Roy Halladay versus Chris Carpenter. Two veteran right-handers in their prime. Two friends who grew up together in the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization.

“It was just one of those classic matchups where you anticipate going to the game that it was going to be low-scoring affair. Consequently, that’s how it ended up,” Gillick said of the 1-0 game won by the Cardinals.

Halladay allowed just one run in eight innings that night; Carpenter was ever so slightly better, pitching nine scoreless frames. Nobody knew it would be the final post-season game of Halladay’s career. The right-hander died Tuesday at the age of 40 in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s tough,” said Gillick on Wednesday. The 80-year-old, who was general manager of the Blue Jays from 1978 to 1994, knew Halladay well. The careers of the two men intersected briefly in Toronto and then in more pronounced fashion in Philadelphia.

Gillick left his post as GM of the Blue Jays following the 1994 season but remained with the organization for one more year before departing to Baltimore. In that year he got a chance to see Halladay, a Denver native, pitch as a high-schooler during a travel game in Arizona.

Soon after, the Blue Jays, led by GM Gord Ash, selected Halladay with the 17th overall pick of the 1995 draft.

Gillick, who spent time as GM of the Orioles, Mariners and Phillies and is now senior adviser to the president and GM in Philadelphia, watched from afar as Halladay struggled, then rebuilt himself into a superstar and one of the most important pitchers in Blue Jays history.

“You have to give him a lot of credit, along with [former Blue Jays pitching coach] Mel Queen,” said Gillick. “When Halladay signed in ’95, he had one delivery. A few years into his career, he changed his delivery and completely revamped himself. That, to me, proves how persistent he was and what a real professional he was because it was very difficult to completely remake your delivery and be as successful as he was.”

When it looked like the Blue Jays were going to trade Halladay in 2009, Gillick did his research on the pitcher. He spoke to people who had played with Halladay and knew him well, then shared his findings with Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr.

“Great teammate, great clubhouse guy,” Gillick recalled. “Someone that prepared mentally and physically for the game. Somebody that knew the opposition. Really, kind of a fearless competitor on the mound. Just a very easy guy to coach because he basically coached himself.”

The Phillies, World Series winners in 2008, traded for Halladay in December of the next year.

For the ace, it was finally a chance to compete in the playoffs, something he desperately craved but could never do in his 12 years with the Blue Jays. Halladay instantly made the most of his opportunity, pitching a no-hitter during his post-season debut in 2010.

For Gillick, though, there’s still the thought of what could have been. Maybe things would be different if the Phillies had scored a few runs off Carpenter in that 2011 elimination game.

“He did exactly what we got him for,” said Gillick. “Unfortunately, we didn’t go to the World Series with him. But he certainly got us into the position to go to the World Series.”