Blanton comes up big against Brewers
Righty retires 18 of first 21 batters in decisive Game 4 victory
MILWAUKEE -- For Joe Blanton, it's been a long way from the A's Spring Training complex at Phoenix Municipal Stadium to locking up a National League Division Series on Sunday as a member of the Phillies.Blanton was the last of the frontline pitchers to leave Oakland this year, following Dan Haren and Rich Harden out the door. The Cubs got Harden to offset the Brewers obtaining CC Sabathia, then the Phillies picked up Blanton to bolster their starting staff. Haren's Diamondbacks didn't make the playoffs. Harden's Cubs were eliminated on Saturday by the Dodgers. And now Sabathia and the Brewers are gone, thanks, in part, to Blanton's six-plus innings of one-run, five-hit work on Sunday in the Phillies' Game 4, 6-2 victory at Miller Park.
"You know, it's awesome," said Blanton, who had the support of a game-opening homer by Jimmy Rollins and two moon balls hit by Pat Burrell. "I mean, all the credit really goes to the offense. Jimmy came out of the gates and really set the tone, really gave us some momentum early. Then later Pat came through with the big blows. That's huge. That really gives you a lot of confidence to go out and attack the zone and feel a little more comfortable."Blanton struck out seven, walked none and kept the Brewers off balance for the better part of the first six innings. As the Phils built a 5-0 lead through three, the right-handed Blanton held the Brewers to Ryan Braun's two-out single in the first, J.J. Hardy's leadoff single in the fifth and pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn Jr.'s leadoff single in the sixth. None of those baserunners advanced any farther than first base. Blanton retired 18 of the first 21 batters he faced. "Joe Blanton just goes out there every single time and throws strikes, mixes it up and just keeps people off balance," said Phillies closer Brad Lidge, who finished the game with an uneventful ninth inning. "He gives us incredible starts. Today was the biggest one he's given us. It was just a monster effort on his part. He had great stuff today. He went out there and took care of it." Blanton was humming along so nicely, manager Charlie Manuel let him hit for himself to open the seventh. But Blanton didn't last much longer than that. Prince Fielder opened the bottom of the inning with a full-count homer, and Hardy followed with another single. Manuel sent in Ryan Madson to replace Blanton, who now has five wins (no losses) in his 14 starts for the Phillies. "That's the best I've seen him pitch," Manuel said of Blanton. "Today he challenged the hitters. He was very aggressive. He definitely wasn't scared of anything. He went right at them. He went right at Fielder. You know, Fielder hit three balls real hard today, but Blanton stayed right on him. He went right at [Ryan] Braun. He went right after their big hitters, he didn't back away, and he did a heck of a job."
"I was fine," Blanton said. "I fell behind to Fielder, and he made me pay for it. I didn't want to walk him to start off an inning. I threw him a good pitch earlier [in the fourth], and he attacked it and lined out. This time he beat me. I wasn't surprised that Charlie left me in there. I was pitching a good game, and we had a comfortable lead."Blanton doesn't want to discuss his departure from the A's. He was 5-12 with a 4.96 ERA when Billy Beane, Oakland's general manager, dispatched him to Philadelphia on July 17, finishing the dismantling of the club, which began this past winter. "I haven't really dwelled on it, thought much about it since I was traded," Blanton said. Blanton won 47 games for the Athletics from the outset of the 2005 season and remained healthy while such colleagues as Harden and Justin Duchscherer spent more time on the disabled list than on the mound. Now Philadelphia GM Pat Gillick considers Blanton a mainstay of the Phillies' rotation, the No. 4 starter through at least next season. "He's pitched well, about what we anticipated," Gillick said. "He gives us innings, and he's a good competitor. I think he had a touch of tendinitis when we got him, but he worked through that. We have him under contract for another two years. He's going to fit in somewhere on our starting staff." As far as that goes, Blanton's next start probably will be against the Dodgers at Los Angeles in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series, which begins on Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park. If Blanton get similar results, he'll be happy. "It's always a good day when you win," he said.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.