Sometimes history creeps up on you when you least expect it.
The greatest moments in sports usually happen that way, coming at the least likely time. Thus was the case Wednesday afternoon, when I made my way through the turnstiles at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia - not as a reporter for The Sentinel, but as a lifelong Phillies fan.
I've been fortunate enough to attend a number of Phillies games over the years - my parents have had season tickets since 1978. I was there for the final game at Veterans Stadium and the inaugural contest at the new baseball palace across the street. I've been to a game during every playoff series since 2007, seeing Brett Myers' and Shane Victorino's heroics against CC Sabathia and the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS and Game 4 of the 2008 World Series - a rain-delayed, 10-2 shellacking of the Rays that started after 10 p.m.
Needless to say, I saw my share of Phillies playoff games before Wednesday, so I'll admit I was a bit complacent heading into the stadium. I just hoped that the men in red pinstripes had a better attitude than I.
As Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips lazily grounded out on the first pitch of the game, the more than 46,000 people in the stands could see it was going to be a good night. "He only needs 27 pitches tonight," a fan behind me joked. Of course, he would need 104 pitches to complete the no-no, but with the stuff Roy Halladay had that night, I wouldn't have put it past him.
When Halladay toed the rubber after getting the first out in the second inning, a four-pitch strikeout of hated former Phillie Scott Rolen, I glanced up at the scoreboard behind my seat in left field and noticed he had yet to give up a hit. I always catch myself doing this at games, hoping to see something special, but I never actually expecting it.
The atmosphere was electric - the rally towels transforming the stands from a sea of red into a blizzard of white. Reds' starting pitcher Edinson Volquez looked noticeably rattled on the mound - and with every ball he threw, the thunderous roar in South Philadelphia grew louder and louder.
As the game progressed, more people seemed to catch on to what they were witnessing. I walked the concourse around the sixth inning, and each person I saw had a cautious grin on their face.
"Could this really happen?" one fan said to me, making sure not to say the forbidden words. "Things like this don't happen in Philly."
I continued toward my seat, listening to the radio broadcast playing on the concourse speakers. Phillies broadcaster Tom McCarthy committed a cardinal sin heading into a commercial - using the words "Roy Halladay" and "no-hitter" in a sentence. The fans let out a simultaneous groan.
"That idiot just blew it. Who was that?" someone said.
By the seventh inning, the 46,000-plus knew what they were a part of - the fans becoming giddy with excitement as they counted down the outs. The eighth inning - seven pitches, seven strikes - was quick as could be.
And then a funny thing happened as Halladay made what must have been the loneliest walk out to the mound for the final inning. The stadium went silent. There was no music playing. The fans weren't cheering. They simply sat quietly, watching and waiting for history to happen.
It was fitting that Phillips, who was the first out of the game, made the final out as well - sending a dribbler out in front of home plate for Phillies' catcher Carlos Ruiz to field and throw to first from his knees. As I turned to my father next to me and embraced screaming "no-hitter," all I could do was thank God that Jim Joyce wasn't the first base umpire.
I've quickly learned in my short journalistic career that the need to be objective while on the job indirectly forces you to be objective off the clock as well - even when it's a team you've followed your entire life. But when an athlete is on the cusp of achieving history, it's nearly impossible for even the most unbiased reporter not to root for that player. I mean if nothing else, it makes for one heck of a story.
Chris McFarland is a Sentinel sports reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.