Roy Halladay would not have won the American League Cy Young Award after a sublime 22-victory season with the Toronto Blue Jays were it not for a more humbling experience that started more than two years earlier with the Dunedin Blue Jays in the Class-A Florida State League.
Optioned to Dunedin in March 2001 after a dreadful spring training, Halladay modified his delivery and inched his way back to the big leagues. The next season, the right-hander developed confidence and focus as a 19-game winner after consulting with sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman.
Now Halladay has joined the ranks of the game's elite after compiling the most victories in the major leagues over the last two seasons. Quite a turnaround for a player who contemplated whether his career was over when he was demoted.
"[Those doubts] were definitely there," Halladay said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters after being informed of his runaway victory in voting by a committee of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America. "When I went down that far and really had no idea of what I was going to do to get back ... it was a little scary for me."
The only thing scary about Halladay's 2003 season was how good it was. He led the league in victories with a 22-7 record, compiled a 15-game winning streak and pitched nine complete games. Halladay received 26 of 28 first-place votes and two second-place votes for a total of 136 points. The award also earns him a $100,000 incentive-clause bonus.
Runner-up Esteban Loaiza of the Chicago White Sox, who had a 21-9 record and led the league with 207 strikeouts, received 63 points based on two first-place votes, 16 second-place votes and five third-place votes. Loaiza's candidacy undoubtedly was hurt by a late-season slide in which he lost three consecutive decisions, two to the AL Central champion Minnesota Twins.
Three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez, who led the major leagues with a 2.22 earned-run average but won only 14 games for the Boston Red Sox, finished third with 20 points.
Halladay appeared to be heading nowhere when he finished April 0-2 with a 4.89 ERA. He then won 15 consecutive starts beginning May 1 before the Angels ended the streak exactly three months later.
"It was an unbelievable ride for me," Halladay said. "It was one of those times in baseball where it seemed like everything was going right. If I didn't have my best stuff and gave up a couple of runs, we'd score a couple more."
The 26-year-old said he was especially proud of the fact that he excelled given the struggles of Toronto's other pitchers, who compiled a collective 5.01 ERA. Perhaps most impressive, Halladay, who finished with a 3.25 ERA, went 11-3 after Blue Jay losses.
"You always want to be a guy who stops a losing streak or continues a winning streak," he said. "I really enjoy being a guy that's counted on."
Halladay credited former Toronto pitching coach Mel Queen for switching him to a three-quarters delivery in 2001, which gave his pitches more movement to both sides of the plate.
Dorfman said he worked with Halladay on his confidence, which had plummeted during his demotion to the minor leagues in 2001. "The residue from that year was so traumatic for him, he still had it with him in 2002," Dorfman said. "It didn't go away because he hadn't yet succeeded."
Halladay was relentless in his pursuit of self-improvement, Dorfman said. The psychologist said the pitcher's ability to integrate information into behavior was on par with that of two of his more notable clients, four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer.
Said Halladay: "Sometimes you get caught up in the big picture. He helped me eliminate distractions and make one pitch at a time."