Saturday, August 2, 2008

Third Time's the Charm for Blanton

In his first two starts for the Phillies, he gave up a combined seven earned runs in eight innings, and yet the Phillies won both games, thanks to impressive rallies (particularly in Blanton's debut against the Mets). Tonight he led the Phillies to victory himself, pitching seven strong innings and earning his first win for his new team.

Blanton would be matched nearly pitch for pitch by the Cardinals' Braden Looper, who also went seven innings. Yet, great as they were, neither pitcher was perfect. Looper made the first of two mistakes in the third inning, when Greg Dobbs homered to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead. In the fourth, Ryan Howard came up and continued his abuse of Looper, crushing a homer to right-center and extending the Phillies' lead to 2-0.

Howard has always played well against the Cardinals and Looper, in particular. Coming into the game, Howard had three home runs in four at-bats against Looper. Tonight he add a fourth home run, plus a pair of walks.

Howard's home run would make the difference tonight, as Blanton would only make one mistake the entire game. That mistake resulted in a 420-foot blast by Ryan Ludwick in the seventh inning, his third home run of the series, that made it a 2-1 game. But it wouldn't matter in the end, as the Phillies bullpen survived the eighth and ninth. J.C. Romero allowed a single in the eighth, then struck out Cesar Izturis, then Charlie Manuel turned to Chad Durbin who induced a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of yesterday's hero, Joe Mather.

The ninth inning featured yet another meeting of Brad Lidge and Albert Pujols, but this one held little suspense. Pujols hit a sharp grounder on the first pitch right to Jimmy Rollins, who fired to first for the first out. Lidge then struck out Ludwick, but walked Troy Glaus. Brendan Ryan came in to pinch run and Rick Ankiel stepped in to pinch hit. Ankiel was held out of the lineup with an abdominal strain, but was available as a pinch hitter, so the Cardinals turned to him here.

Perhaps if Tony La Russa had remembered Ankiel's last meeting with Lidge, he would have acted differently. (I remember quite well. Three sliders, three swings, no contact.) The first pitch, not surprisingly, was a slider, but it was low and in the dirt and it skipped away from Carlos Ruiz. That allowed Ryan to take second, putting the tying run in scoring position. However, Lidge got down to business after that. He threw a slider for a called strike, then got Ankiel to whiff on two more sliders, ending the game and recording his 27th save in as many chances.

The Phillies are now 3-0 in games Blanton starts, which is good in itself, but it was especially encouraging to see him have a dominant outing tonight. The first win was little more than luck, as far as Blanton was concerned, and the second was cut short due to a rain delay, but he did not get off to a great start. But tonight, against a formidable offense, he was at his best allowing just four hits, only one of which was for extra bases (Ludwick's homer), and striking out five.

Tomorrow we'll see Brett Myers put to the test as he tries to prove that his stellar performance against the Nationals was not a fluke. He'll take on Todd Wellemeyer, who was partially responsible for the Phillies' 20-2 rout of the Cardinals on June 13th. To be fair, he was coming off an injury and may not have been entirely healthy, so don't expect another 20 runs tomorrow. Then again, who expected Blanton to dominate?

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