Phils' Blanton must adjust for Game 4 start
Joe Blanton is memorialized in the Hall of Fame. Really. When reminded of that, Blanton shrugged and said how nice it is, but he did so with an ironic grin because he never would have imagined it would be because of his hitting.
Joe Blanton is memorialized in the Hall of Fame.
When reminded of that, Blanton shrugged and said how nice it is, but he did so with an ironic grin because he never would have imagined it would be because of his hitting.
After all, Blanton is a pitcher who will take the mound for the Phillies against the Dodgers in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park tonight. He will be opposed by Dodgers lefthander Randy Wolf, a former Phillie.
As for Blanton's hitting? Well, he hits like a pitcher, which means a good time to take a bathroom break is when he steps into the batter's box.
But the bat with which Blanton hit a home run in Game 4 of last year's World Series is a piece of memorabilia in Cooperstown. He never did get the ball.
"I think that would be the last thing I'd ever think would be in there," Blanton said before last night's Game 3.
Though none of them were Hall of Fame worthy, Blanton's mound contributions to the Phillies' run to the World Series championship were notable in '08. He started Game 4 in the division series against Milwaukee, in the NLCS against Los Angeles, and in the World Series against Tampa Bay. The Phils won each time.
But the circumstances this time are different for Blanton. Last season, he went into the postseason fully synchronized as a starter, taking a regular turn, comfortable as one of the creatures of habit that characterizes so many ballplayers.
This time, Blanton is making his first postseason start after serving in the bullpen. He pitched 32/3 innings in two relief appearances in the NLDS and allowed two runs and four hits. He last start was Oct. 2 against Florida in the final weekend of the regular season. So tonight's will be his first start in 17 days. No problem, Blanton said, as long as he was given a couple days' notice. Which he was.
"A couple days' notice, so you've got those days to get mentally prepped and get yourself ready to get back in that mode of going 100 pitches and cruising it out," he said.
Blanton went against the Dodgers once during the regular season and held them to one run over six innings, an improvement over his outing against them in last season's NLCS, when the Dodgers scored three runs off him in five innings.
The personality of the quiet, low-key Blanton is in stark contrast to that of Wolf, who is probably more familiar to Phillies fans because the 33-year-old spent eight seasons pitching for the Phils. Chatty with a keen sense of humor, Wolf was once among the more popular Phillies. A group of his fans formed the Wolf Pack. They had their den in the outfield, some wearing wolf masks. Wolf even attended the funeral of a Wolf Pack member.
"It was pretty incredible," recalled Wolf, who became a free agent after the 2006 season. "I remember in 1999 it was my third start. I believe it was against the Pirates, and it was my second home start. And there they were. It was like three or four guys. I pitched a pretty good game, won the game, and the better I got the more people were in the Wolf Pack. They took me in in what could be kind of a tough city. It was pretty awesome.
"But once the game starts, all the stuff that are memories get blocked out."
Wolf was the Dodgers' most consistent starter during the regular season, which earned him the Game 1 start against St. Louis in the NLDS. But he had control problems and labored through 32/3 innings, walking five and allowing two runs and six hits.
At times, he still has difficulty controlling his emotions. The Dodgers swept the Cardinals, allowing manager Joe Torre to set up his rotation. Wolf was passed over until Game 4. The danger, of course, is that Wolf will allow his emotions to get the best of him as he tries to knock off his old team. Torre didn't see it that way.
"He's got a lot of emotion going on," Torre said. "But the experience of having pitched here certainly is something we feel good about."
In the three years since Wolf and the Phillies parted ways, the Phils have won a division title each season, culminating with last year's World Series title.
"I came up with those guys, and to see them at the height of success, winning the World Series, I was extremely happy for those guys," Wolf said. "But I'd be lying if I said to you there was a part of me that wasn't jealous."