Blanton earns first win with Phillies
Right-hander pitches seven strong innings in victory
ST. LOUIS -- On June 24, the Phillies entered McAfee Coliseum and dropped their sixth straight game when Oakland A's pitcher Joe Blanton crippled them on one run in seven innings.Nearly five weeks later, the Phillies saw that guy again, and this time were happy. Except for walking two fewer batters, Blanton posted an identical line against the opposition, surrendering one run on four hits in seven innings, with five whiffs and a homer allowed, and the team that played behind him won. Specifically, that would be Blanton's new team, the Phillies, 2-1, over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. "He pitched exactly the same way," catcher Chris Coste said. "He threw all four of his pitches at any given time for quality strikes. Of all the video I watched, I watched that game the most because he had success against us, and I wanted to know what he was doing. My mentality going into the game was to call a game exactly the way I saw him throw against us." In winning their sixth game in the past seven, the Phillies climbed 1 1/2 games ahead of the Marlins, and two of the Mets, only eight days after bowing out of National League East lead. It was also the eighth time the Phillies won when scoring three runs or fewer. "This was also good because it shows we can play close games and we can pitch with the other team," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Games like this can give you more confidence than anything." Blanton showed the moxie and assortment of pitches that attracted the Phillies to deal three prospects for him on July 17. He arrived with a reputation as an innings-eater who would work deep in games, though through a combination of the All-Star break, a trade and a rain-shortened outing, the right-hander had only pitched eight innings since July 9. Used to receiving plenty of innings, it may have taken time for Blanton to shake off the rust, which he did against a Cardinals lineup that featured five hitters batting higher than .300. One of those hitters, Albert Pujols, has a .333 career batting average. He batted against Blanton in the third inning with two on and two outs in what could've been a game-changing moment. The Phillies had just taken the lead, 1-0, on Greg Dobbs' home run and Blanton was determined not to give that back. Not against Pujols and not at that spot in the game. "Those are the at-bats that can make or break a game," Blanton said. "If he drives the ball, that's the one that can give them momentum. He's the hitter I wanted to make tough pitches too, and hopefully make something good happen." Blanton threw every one of his pitches on both sides before catching the 2005 NL Most Valuable Player and 2006 MVP runner-up looking with a slider that began inside and broke over the inside corner. "That's a [gutsy] pitch," Manuel said. "I was wondering if it was a mistake or something." Joe? "It was where I wanted it," Blanton said. "Coste did a nice job of calling back there." Chris? "Even though Pujols is maybe the best hitter in baseball, he's not as aggressive in that situation," Coste said. "The ball starts in, you give up on it. That's one of the best pitches in baseball, and one of the benefits of having so many pitches. When you can throw four pitches at any point -- and he threw every one of them to both sides -- that was the only pitch left and it made sense that he could attack." Though he had gotten off to a slow start since his July 17 acquisition, compiling a 7.88 ERA and potentially putting his rotation spot in jeopardy, Blanton turned in the type of performance that will please the Phillies if it continues. The Phillies needed it, as their offense came on solo homers by Dobbs and Ryan Howard, his 12th career against the Cardinals. J.C. Romero and Chad Durbin worked the eighth inning and Brad Lidge tossed a scoreless ninth inning for his 27th save. If the Phillies expect to go deep in the playoffs, Howard said the team needs games like this. "That's big because coming down the stretch, especially if the division race remains as it is now, games are going to be tight pressure situations," Howard said. "You want to blow the other team out, but that's not going to happen every night. You want everybody to be ready for these types of games."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.