Phils' All-Stars back dominant Blanton
Three-run third enough to support righty's 7 1/3 innings
PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has been saying for weeks now that to improve his starting staff, he wants to acquire a horse.
That may be elusive, for now, but he's found himself a bulldog.
Manuel bestowed that title on right-hander Joe Blanton after Friday's 3-2 victory over the Pirates at Citizens Bank, when Blanton allowed just four hits and one run over 7 1/3 innings in Manuel's 400th win with Philadelphia.
"I guess ... I've been called that before," Blanton said of the nickname. "I kind of just go out there and grab the ball and just go for it. Try to throw a lot of strikes, attack and throw really quick. So I guess it kind of fits a little bit."
Lately, Blanton has looked like the top pitcher Philadelphia desires. He outdueled two-time Cy Young Award-winner Johan Santana last weekend -- tossing 7 1/3 innings of scoreless ball -- and he breezed through Pittsburgh's lineup Friday. True to his mantra, Blanton walked only one while striking out six; 71 of his 103 pitches were strikes.
It was the first time since April 2008 that Blanton threw more than seven innings in consecutive starts.
It was also his seventh quality start in his past nine outings, and team-leading 10th of the season. Over those nine starts, he is 4-1 with a 2.44 ERA -- serving as a more-than-admirable replacement for Brett Myers, who suffered a torn right labrum just as Blanton was heating up.
The consistency is encouraging, although it naturally does not mean that the Phillies will be any less aggressive in their pursuit of free agent Pedro Martinez or pitchers available on the trade market, such as Roy Halladay.
"They're going to do what they're going to do regardless of if I go out and throw a shutout every game or if I give up eight runs every game," Blanton said.
The lone blemish for Blanton was a very long first-inning solo home run by Garrett Jones, which landed on Ashburn Alley atop the Phillies' bullpen.
"That should almost count as two," Blanton said. "It went over two fences."
But of course, it only counts as one run, and Philadelphia's All-Star contingent quickly erased that deficit with a two-out rally in the third. Center fielder Shane Victorino singled, and with the help of a fielding error, scored on Chase Utley's base hit to center. After Ryan Howard walked, Jayson Werth, the Phils' newest All-Star, drove home Utley and Howard with a double to left-center.
All four players -- along with left fielder Raul Ibanez, who did not play after being activated from the 15-day disabled list earlier Friday -- will be in St. Louis for Tuesday's Midsummer Classic.
So will Manuel, who on Friday became the fifth Phillies manager to win 400 games with the club. He is 400-332 (.546), 31 wins behind fourth-place skipper Jim Fregosi.
Closer Brad Lidge also climbed a rung on an all-time list, tying Billy Wagner for seventh place with his 59th Phillies save.
Lidge, though, made matters interesting. He entered with one out in the ninth inning, struck out the first batter he faced, but then gave up a long home run to Brandon Moss.
"We had a two-run lead -- if you're going to give up a homer, solo's the best to give up, I guess," Manuel said.
Lidge then walked Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson before striking out pinch-hitter Delwyn Young to end the game.
In some ways, Lidge's rocky but successful two-thirds of an inning illustrated one of Manuel's larger points. A week ago, perhaps, Lidge would have allowed the walk and then the home run. But as games go the Phillies' way on this homestand -- they swept the Mets and took three of four from the Reds -- so do the lucky breaks.
"Here lately, it's kind of like we're kind of getting used to winning again," Manuel said. "We come up with the big hits at the right time, we pitch at the right time, we catch the ball at the right time. That's what winning is."
Blanton has been doing a lot of that recently, and he has just two hopes for the coming days. One, he would like his team to play well in its final two games before the All-Star break. Two, he would like this break to be more relaxing than last year's, when he was dealt from Oakland to Philadelphia.
"We've got a couple more to close it out," Blanton said. "Hopefully we can take the momentum through the break and keep rolling."
And maybe by then, the bulldog will be joined by a horse.
David Gurian-Peck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.