Dec 9, 2013, 1:30 PM EDT
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Roy Halladay arguably was the best pitcher in baseball as recently as 2011, when he went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA, 220 strikeouts and a league-best eight complete games.
Two years later, the right-hander has retired, completing his surprisingly swift decline and ending his career much sooner than most would have anticipated not long ago.
Halladay, 36, made his announcement here at the Winter Meetings, officially signing a one-day contract with the same Blue Jays organization that drafted him way back in 1995 and then retiring from the sport after 16 big-league seasons.
“It was probably more steady than people knew,” Halladay said of his seemingly sudden decline. “There were times in  where later in the games it would be a challenge. You know, as you get older, that’s how things go. You’re going to stiffen up. You’re going to get tight. I thought it was just due to age. But I know things were starting to change a little bit. I think the frustrating part was in the past I found a way through working out, through research, through talking to trainers, to overcome those things. Really, it kind of got to the point where as much as we did, we just couldn’t fully overcome it.”
Halladay was a bit of a late developer in Toronto, but once he hit he stride, he was as good as any pitcher in the sport over the last decade. From 2002-11 with the Blue Jays and Phillies, he went 170-75 with a 2.97 ERA, winning two Cy Young Awards and making eight All-Star appearances.
Fans in Washington, of course, saw far too often what Halladay could accomplish on the mound. He dominated the Nationals like few other pitchers have, turning head-to-head matchups into one-sided affairs.
Halladay faced the Nationals 13 times from 2005-13. His record: 10-1. His ERA: 2.26. In 99 2/3 innings, he allowed only 98 Washington batters to reach base.
Even when reduced to a shell of his former self this year due to shoulder and back injuries, Halladay still owned the Nats. On Sept. 4 at Citizens Bank Park, he held them to one run on three hits over six innings (though five walks and two hit batters were an obvious indication his overall days might be numbered).
Halladay’s departure from the game will impact the Nationals and the rest of the NL East. A Phillies club that desperately is trying to stay competitive and hang with the Nats and Braves in the division will be diminished even more.
And a Nationals lineup that for nine seasons rarely had an answer for Halladay will take some solace knowing it never has to face this intimidating right-hander again.
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