SAN DIEGO—Joe Blanton's resurgence could not have come at a better time for the Phillies. With Brett Myers likely gone for the season, leaving rookies and questions in the rotation behind ace Cole Hamels, the team needed stability from Blanton more than ever before.
Last night, the 28-year-old righthander contributed his second consecutive strong start. He allowing three runs—though two were home runs—in seven innings as the Phillies defeated San Diego 5-3 at Petco Park on the strength of back-to-back fifth inning solo homers by Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
"Brett went down, and when one person goes down you kind of pick it up a step," Blanton said.
Ugly innings have marred many of Blanton's starts this season and inflated his earned run average. The second inning last night threatened to follow that pattern, but sterling infield defense intervened.
Scott Hairston and Brian Giles began the inning with singles, and Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a grounder to the right of shortstop Jimmy Rollins. The ball appeared headed into left field, but Rollins snagged it on the edge of the outfield grass. He fired to Utley, who made a quick turn and threw to first. Blanton then struck out Nick Hundley.
"At the start of the season, he had some innings where he had a hard time getting out of, and he gave up some runs," said manager Charlie Manuel. "His last three outings, I've seen his command has really gotten much better."
San Diego did not score again until the sixth, when Adrian Gonzalez hit his major-league league leading 21st home run to left field; it was Gonzalez's 12th opposite-field homer this year. Hairston followed with another homer, the 12th Blanton has allowed this season, and the Phils major-league leading 77th.
Blanton attributed the two homers to an aggressive approach; leading by three runs, he preferred pitching to contact than risking a walk. "(Allowing a homer in that situation) is better than walking a guy," he said. "I feel like walks, especially with two outs, they kind of get rallies going."
The two runs tightened a game that should not have been close. The Phils offense squandered several scoring opportunities and left 11 runners on base. Rollins and Raul Ibanez off of the first and second innings with doubles, but the team went 0 for 6 with a runner in scoring position in those innings.
They broke through somewhat in the third, but failed to take full advantage of Padres starter Kevin Correia's wildness and left the bases loaded. The inning began when Correia committed two egregious baseball sins: He walked the leadoff man, who also happened to be the pitcher.
Blanton moved to second on a Rollins single, and the Phils again had a runner on second with none out. This time, Victorino and Utley hit consecutive run-scoring singles after Correia, struggling to locate his fastball, left a pair of them over the plate. But Ryan Howard struck out waving at a wild slider, and Ibanez was late on two-strike fastball, bringing Jayson Werth up with two on and two out.
Correia's pitches continued to elude his catcher's targets, and Werth walked, but Pedro Feliz followed with another swinging strikeout. After three innings, the Phils were 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position, and they stranded another in fourth, when a groundout and flyout left Carlos Ruiz at second.
"When we hit doubles to lead off innings and we don't move the runners, our guys, you can go ask them, they know that's not good baseball," Manuel said. "But's it better to leave them out there than to not have them out there."
But the manager, while somewhat disappointed in his offense, had only praise for Blanton. "He can move his fastball around and around, in and out, up and down," the manager said. "When he gets his slider and his curveball over…when he can locate those balls he can be a pretty consistent pitcher. The call him an innings-eater, but that doesn't impress me. I like to call him a winning pitcher."