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HOU@PHI: Polanco homers to tally career hit No. 2,000

PHILADELPHIA -- Joe Blanton would look pretty nice in plenty of rotations in baseball.

It's his job -- and the job of his teammates -- to make sure that doesn't happen.

Blanton pitched another gem in Monday's 5-1 victory over the Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park. He allowed six hits, one run, one walk and struck out seven in seven innings to improve to 4-3 with a 2.96 ERA.

"I'm just trying to go back and have fun with the game again," Blanton said. "Last year, missing so much time with the injury and not being able to play, you get out there and feel like a kid again. Having fun with the game. Playing the game. It's just nice to be out there."

Blanton has been a pleasant surprise for the Phillies. He missed most of last season because of an injured right elbow and had a 4.85 ERA over the previous two seasons, but entered the night with a 3.24 ERA overall and a 2.35 ERA over his previous three starts, which included a shutout May 3 in Atlanta.

He has bounced back impressively, especially considering the circumstances.

Blanton can become a free agent after the season, and the more he pitches like this, the more valuable he becomes. If the Phillies continue their inconsistent play, they might become sellers at the July 31 Trade Deadline. Blanton could find himself in a pennant race somewhere else, with the Phillies receiving a decent package of prospects in return.

And it goes without saying it will benefit Blanton greatly if he keeps pitching like this and hits the free agent market, just like it will benefit Cole Hamels if he keeps pitching like he has.

But the future is not on his mind, Blanton said.

"I think Cole would say the same thing," he said. "You're in the moment. When you're out there, you're out there competing and trying to win now. You're not worrying about next year right now. At the end of the year, whatever happens, happens. You're going to look back and say 'great' or 'I blew it there' or whatever it may be. But before, during and throughout the whole season our goal is to win. That's our only goal."

Blanton allowed two baserunners to reach second base through the first seven innings and retired 12 of 13 batters until Marwin Gonzalez hit a leadoff home run to right field in the eighth inning to make it 3-1. Jose Altuve followed with a single to left field to force Blanton from the game, handing a two-run lead to a struggling bullpen.

But Antonio Bastardo and Chad Qualls got out of the inning and Jonathan Papelbon pitched a scoreless ninth. If the Phillies beat the Astros on Tuesday, they will have their first three-game winning streak of the season. It is the longest they have gone without a three-game winning streak since 1992.

"[Blanton] threw the ball well tonight," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "It seemed like he was able to throw the breaking ball when he wanted too and he was spotting his fastball. When you have the ability to do that you're going to have a good night and win a game."

Blanton credited his changeup more than anything, saying it was the best it has been since the season started.

He got some help, too. Freddy Galvis continued to prove his worth, picking up two RBIs. He singled in the fifth inning to score Placido Polanco to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead and singled in the sixth inning to score Polanco to make it 3-0. Galvis is hitting .370 (10-for-27) with four doubles, one triple and nine RBIs in his last nine games, and ranks third on the team with 14 RBIs.

Carlos Ruiz picked up an RBI when he singled in the sixth to score Shane Victorino, who started the inning with a triple. But Polanco capped the night when he got his 2,000th hit, a two-run home run to left-center field in the eighth inning.

The Phillies toasted Polanco in the clubhouse after the game.

Polanco picked up the milestone, but Blanton helped the Phillies to a much-needed victory. The Phillies have won three of Blanton's last four starts, which is worth noting because they are winless in Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee's last nine combined starts.

"I thought he might have a chance to close the game out tonight," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said of Blanton.

Blanton has pitched into the seventh inning five times this season. A couple seasons ago it happened 12 times.

"He looks strong on the mound," Manuel said.

And he's enjoying the moment. It has been a while since he could say that, too.

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