TORONTO - Like pretty much every one in the crowd of 36,534 at Rogers Centre, Rod Barajas couldn't help but wonder Sunday if Roy Halladay was making his final start for the Toronto Blue Jays.
"You hear the rumours - there were some rumours last year, nothing like it is this year - so I'm thinking there's a possibility it can happen." he said. "He's the best pitcher I've ever had the chance to catch, so, absolutely, I thought about it.
"I was hoping he'd have an unbelievable performance, something I could remember."
Halladay delivered in that regard, throwing a dazzling complete-game six hitter in a 3-1 victory over the American-League East leading Boston Red Sox. He needed just 105 pitches, 78 strikes, to slice through a pitch-eating lineup with his trademark efficiency, earning his first win in four starts since returning from the disabled list.
Out of character was Halladay's effusive tip of the cap to an adoring crowd on his way off the field. A pair of lengthy ovations greeted him before the game and fans stood throughout the ninth, showing appreciation for his latest masterpiece.
"The fans were excited, they were cheering," Halladay said of the cap tip, playing down the moment. "That's all it was."
Maybe, but it's impossible to escape the sense of countdown to departure around the ace right-hander right now.
Essentially placed on the trade market publicly by general manager J.P. Ricciardi two weeks ago, Halladay's future has since become one of the biggest stories in baseball. His start for the AL at the all-star game thrust him into the centre of a media frenzy that he described as "one of those kind of overwhelming moments in your life."
Worn down by the entire process, Halladay (11-3) was eager to refocus on pitching. He was his old dominating self in helping the Blue Jays (46-47) take two-of-three from the AL-East leading Red Sox (55-36) in their first series out of the all-star break.
That settles nothing, of course, and all Halladay can do is push the matter out of his mind until there's a resolution.
"I really believe being able to handle it at the all-star game, as much of a circus as that was, it kind of allowed me to get back here and put it out of my mind and get back to my job," said Halladay. "It's hard to do, you do hear those things, but you've got to do the best you can to put it out of mind and focus on what you're doing."
That ability to lock in on the task at hand is one reason why Halladay is arguably the top pitcher in the game.
Barajas knocked in all three Toronto runs, breaking out of an 0-for-20 drought with a two-run double in the second for a 2-1 lead. He also brought home Lyle Overbay in the sixth with a sacrifice fly off Jon Lester (8-7) for a 3-1 lead, and that was plenty for Halladay.
He cut up arguably the best team in baseball before Pat Gillick, the former Philadelphia Phillies general manager who is now an adviser to Ruben Amaro Jr., and Texas Rangers scout Don Welke, among other notables.
The Phillies are widely considered the favourites in the race to acquire Halladay, with the Rangers more of a dark-horse candidate. Halladay has a full no-trade clause giving him final say on any possible destinations.
"I'm pretty sure there's a lot of things going through his mind," said Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston. "It wouldn't be human not to have those sorts of things going through, wondering where he might go or where he'd like to go, or whatever."
The high-end package of prospects it would take to get him has led to some doubts over whether he will indeed be traded prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline. But Ricciardi would not have gone public with Halladay's availability if the team didn't plan to deal him, be it now or later.
Halladay has two more starts before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline passes, Friday at home versus Tampa Bay and the following Wednesday in Seattle and even his wife is wondering if they'll have a new baseball home afterwards.
"This very well could be our last homestand," Brandy Halladay told the Blue Jays radio broadcast Saturday while discussing the Lady Jays' annual food drive. "We're leaving Monday.
"If something happens before trade deadline, I won't be back. That's difficult. That's more than difficult. I just broke into tears four minutes ago. ... You're making me cry now."
Roy Halladay tuned out all the emotions versus the Red Sox, shutting the door after David Ortiz's sacrifice fly scored Dustin Pedroia in the first. The only other inning he allowed two runners to reach was the third and he retired Ortiz and Jason Bay of Trail, B.C., to escape.
"They should have traded him the other day, and to a National League team," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
He walked none and struck out seven, no doubt making the Red Sox, another team with some interest in him, wonder how good he'd look in their uniform.
"Whatever happens will be best for the Blue Jays and good for us, too," said Brandy Halladay. "I'm excited for everybody all around."
Less excited are the players looking at a post-Halladay life for the Blue Jays.
"If it happens you know what direction (the team) is going in," said Barajas. "We don't want it to happen, we'd like to keep fighting and keep giving ourselves an opportunity to do something.
"If Doc's gone and that pretty much means that we're not looking to compete for a playoff spot. ... it's almost like you're looking to next year."
Notes: Blue Jays CF Vernon Wells missed his third straight game with a stomach ailment. Manager Cito Gaston said Wells began feeling better Saturday night but then had more problems Sunday morning, forcing him out of the lineup. ... Reliever B.J. may have signed with the Chicago Cubs since his release by the Blue Jays, a giant picture of him remain the Rogers Centre. There are pictures of eight Blue Jays and Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards covering the massive windows on the stadium's south end. ... The Blue Jays ended a five-series losing streak, while the Red Sox had a run of five straight road series wins stopped.