Joe Blanton reached for his helmet and bat without hesitation. Maybe, if he avoided Charlie Manuel or Rich Dubee in the dugout, he could extend his outing beyond the seventh inning Monday. Manuel stopped Blanton before he escaped.
"How do you feel?" the manager asked his fifth starter.
"Good," Blanton said. So he batted.
Even as Blanton cursed when Manuel finally emerged with the hook in the eighth inning of a 5-1 Phillies victory over Houston, there was so much to be happy about. Last season was lost to elbow trouble. This season has started so promising.
A water-logged crowd at Citizens Bank Park showed their appreciation for Blanton with a hearty ovation.
"Last year, you feel like you have no part in anything," Blanton said. "It's nice to help the team win games."
He expected better than seven innings Monday, and that says quite a bit about how well the Blanton has thrown. Even as the Phillies bullpen door opened, a late lead held.
And Tuesday afternoon, weather permitting, the Phillies have their sixth chance at a three-game winning streak. It's been 20 years since a Phillies team waited this long into a season for such a streak.
Blanton, plus some timely hitting by the bottom of the order, have afforded this latest chance. Placido Polanco ensured victory with an eighth-inning, two-run home run for his 2,000th career hit. Polanco, the 269th player in history to accomplish the feat, tipped his helmet when the home fans demanded a curtain call.
"It means a lot," Polanco said.
Blanton prevented late-inning drama with seven scoreless innings. Ultimately, his night ended in the eighth when pinch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez blasted a cutter to right for a solo home run. Jose Altuve flicked the next pitch, a change-up, over Polanco and that's when Manuel responded with the hook.
It did not diminish another fantastic outing. Blanton has already surpassed his innings total from a season ago while throwing with great results. He has pitched into the seventh inning in five of his seven starts and his ERA is 2.96.
"I noticed him in the middle of last year," Manuel said. "He got himself into good shape. He looks strong on the mound. He's using all of his pitches."
Blanton was most pleased with his change-up, a pitch he had not yet used to great success. But on Monday, he threw it 24 times, according to Pitch F/X data, and Astros batters swung and missed 10 times.
The bullpen inherited a runner on first base and the tying run at the plate. Antonio Bastardo struck out the two hitters he faced. Chad Qualls survived a liner hit right at Hunter Pence. Jonathan Papelbon pitched the ninth despite it not being a save situation.
Polanco scored twice before his milestone swing thanks to two Freddy Galvis hits. The second provided a cushion in the sixth inning when Houston challenged the light-hitting rookie.
With Blanton standing on deck and no one warming in the Phillies bullpen, Astros manager Brad Mills chose to face Galvis even with the empty base. Galvis entered Monday with a .248 on-base percentage, but had already delivered a run with a single in the fifth. Manuel said he was "a little bit" surprised Mills opted for that situation.
Galvis watched three Wilton Lopez sinkers fly by and he was down in the count, 1-2. The fourth pitch was also a sinker, high and away, and Galvis slapped it the other way. One run scored before John Mayberry Jr. was gunned down at home.
The 22-year-old Galvis now ranks third on the team with 15 RBIs. It means plenty of runners have been on base ahead of him, but also that his few hits have arrived at opportune times. In his last nine games, he is hitting .370 (10 for 27) with four doubles and a triple.
Leave it to the rookie to inject some life into this often-morose ballpark. Blanton was not the only recipient of the love, but he relished the positive attention.