JOE BLANTON has faced the Yankees four times in his 5-plus-year major league career. But he's never faced them on a stage like this. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel announced yesterday that the veteran righthander, who has started one game this posteason, will face the Yankees tomorrow in Game 4.
In doing so, he ended any speculation about bringing ace lefthander Cliff Lee back on 3 days' rest, while also cementing rookie lefty J.A. Happ's spot in the bullpen for the rest of the series.
"I think Blanton fits for us, because I think we want to keep Happ right now in the bullpen, especially kind of in the middle where he could do some innings," Manuel said, "and also Joe pitched last year in the World Series, and he's got a little bit more experience."
Blanton is 2-0 with a 3.45 ERA in seven career postseason appearances. Last year, he held the Rays to two runs on four hits in Game 4 of the World Series, while also contributing a solo home run at the plate.
His last action this postseason was in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers, when he allowed four runs in six innings of the Phillies' 5-4 win, which featured a walkoff two-run double by Jimmy Rollins.
Blanton also pitched 3 2/3 innings of relief against the Rockies in the NLDS, allowing two runs on four hits.
He last faced the Yankees on June 12, 2008, when he allowed four runs in 6 2/3 innings of a 4-1 loss while a member of the Oakland Athletics. He also faced them in 2007, when he allowed three runs on five hits in 6 2/3 innings of a 4-3 loss.
In back-to-back starts against the Yankees in his rookie season of 2005, he allowed 13 runs in 8 2/3 innings, including nine runs in 2 2/3 innings of a 15-6 loss.
"People change from year to year," Blanton said. "They even change from the start of the season. There are things you can draw on, but it's not, 'I did this before, so I can do it again.' "
Although Lee allowed one run in a masterful complete game performance against the Yankees in Game 1, Manuel said he was not comfortable starting the veteran lefty on 3 days' rest. Lee has never started before on short rest, although he has said several times he thinks he would be able to do so.
The Yankees have not named a Game 4 starter. Lefthander CC Sabathia, who held the Phillies to two runs in seven innings in Game 1, is a candidate to start on short rest. If the Yankees opt to save Sabathia for Game 5, they likely would go with righthander Chad Gaudin, who was 2-0 with a 3.43 in six games, four them starts, for the Yankees after going 4-10 with a 5.13 ERA in 20 games for the Padres.
"[Lee has thrown] 265 or 267 innings or something like that, and he's never pitched on 3 days' rest," Manuel said. "He's never pitched on 3 days' rest. And also I like him in Game 5 . . . "
Starting Lee on 3 days' rest in Game 4 would have enabled him to start Game 7 on 3 days' rest, too. But Manuel still would have needed a starter for Game 5.
Manuel opted for Blanton over Happ, who went 10-4 with a 2.99 ERA as a starter during the regular season. The Phillies have used Happ primarily as a reliever this postseason, although he did start Game 3 of the NL Division Series, when he allowed three runs on five hits in three innings in sub-freezing temperatures.
Happ has retired two of the six batters he has faced as a reliever this postseason.
A practical joker in the Phillies' clubhouse boarded up Greg Dobbs' locker with cardboard and hung a sign with hospital visiting instructions that advised visitors to "wear a mask."
Dobbs was sent home from New York Thursday with the flu, although the Phillies remain hopeful that he will be available to play tonight. Righthander Tyler Walker, who is not on the roster, but has traveled with the team throughout the playoffs, is the only other player whom the team has acknowledged is suffering from the flu.
Veteran righthander Pedro Martinez told reporters that he felt "under the weather" when he took the mound for his start in Game 2. Several team sources say that other players have felt sick over the past few days, but Dobbs was the only one missing from practice yesterday.
"There's some guys that have had some flu symptoms or had the flu, but I don't know - I don't know how we're going to deal with that," Manuel said. "We've got to play. So that's kind of how I look at it. We're trying to deal with that the best we can. There's no sense in me sitting here running down who's sick and who's not and all this stuff. What the hell, we don't want everybody to know what's going on. You'll find out on your own probably, but at the same time, I'm not going to tell you." *
Daily News sports writer Paul Hagen contributed to this report.