CC SABATHIA is watching the World Series - or maybe not.

Rich Harden is, too. Paul Byrd is at home, as is Greg Maddux.

Joe Blanton, the trade-deadline deal we all yawned at, is one Phillies win away from a World Series championship. And a huge reason for that is Joe Blanton. The Phillies are 3-0 in games he has started this postseason, have produced more runs for him in each of those games than they have in any of their other postseason victories.

Blanton did his usual thing last night: Six innings, two runs allowed on four hits in the Phillies' 10-2 victory over the Rays. He worked quickly. He threw strikes, he struck out seven and walked two. He created a pace that finally loosened the grips on the Phillies' bats, or at least created the unfamiliar sights of consecutive hits, and a home run to leftfield off the bat of Ryan Howard.

He also hit a home run, the first by a pitcher in a World Series in 34 years. And when he walked off, it wasn't yawns.

"My job is not to go out there and hit home runs," Blanton said. "My job is to go out there and throw the ball well and give my team a chance to win. And when you hear that applause coming off the mound after pitching, you kind of get that sense you did your job."

When this World Series started, the themes were crystal clear. Would the Phillies' potent lineup overcome the dynamic young pitching staff of Tampa Bay? That was their one and only shot. Even as the Series got under way, the focus was on the team's comically epic - or epically comic - struggles with runners in scoring position.

All the while, Charlie Manuel tried to tell people: He and his team were here, competing in this World Series, because of their pitching. They were here because the Phillies are more than just Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge, more than just Jamie Moyer's Dorian Gray act.

The Phillies are here, both in the postseason and in the World Series, because Joe Blanton put them in a position to win every time he took the hill from Aug. 1 and beyond.

They are here, on the brink of an amazing moment in this city's history, because they shut the other guys down. All that talk about the Phillies' futility with runners in scoring position masked the ugliest statistic this World Series has to offer: Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria, the Rays' 3-4 hitters, are 0-for-29 in this series, with 15 strikeouts.

Think that isn't about pitching?

Think that isn't about dominance?

Only once has Blanton failed to finish at least the fifth inning. Not once since Aug. 1 has he allowed more than four runs.

In September and October, only once have the Phillies lost a game he has started. Blanton pitched as well on the road as he did at home. He won a big game at Florida in late September. He pitched well enough in the pivotal fourth game of the National League Championship Series in Los Angeles, was exceedingly good as the Phillies clinched the NLDS in Milwaukee.

And last night? Well, the good ol' boy from Kentucky, bearer of the famous whiskey name, should drink for free if Cole Hamels is Cole Hamels tonight and the Phillies capture their second-ever World Series.

Because you could not have counted on this. Not at the start, not even when he was acquired at the trade deadline. The Phillies' starting rotation was a mess then, Brett Myers just up from the IronPigs, Kyle Kendrick unable to make it to the third inning, Adam Eaton getting shelled in the minors while pitching in a Hawaiian shirt.

Blanton was a mess, too. It's why Oakland parted with him, just days after they traded Harden to the Cubs. We know now he came here with a tender biceps, but at the time he just looked like another of those famous moves that have shackled this team in the past.

To be honest, he looked a little like Eaton, at least at first.

"It's been a rough year, personally, just the ups and downs," he said the other day. "Over there it was almost like I couldn't catch a break the first half of the year. I kind of let myself get in a rut, which was an experience I'll take, and hopefully learn from, and not let it happen again.

"And then the trade happens . . . a new breath. I was going to a new league, new team. It was almost like getting to start over. So it almost made me think, all right, I can start over here, a team competing for the playoffs and try to put some good starts together, and help out any way I can."

He's done more than that. He's been a true X-factor, deepening a starting staff that was the biggest question mark when this season started.

The Phillies will hit, everyone said. But do they have enough pitching?

Joe Blanton has been more than enough. He's been more than any yawning fan could have asked for.

Or dreamed of. *

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