THE ANNOUNCEMENT came late Thursday afternoon, an off day, like a thunderbolt out of a cloudless sky.

Joe Blanton would not start against the Mets as scheduled. He was instead headed for the disabled list with an impingement in his right elbow. Righthander Vance Worley would ride in from Triple A Lehigh Valley to take his place.

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Now, while that might lack the dramatic tingle of a midnight call from the governor granting clemency to the condemned man seconds before the executioner's song, it was a jarring development for a team that has been bitten hard by the injury bug this season.

The call caught Worley off guard, too. He was getting ready to head out to Coca-Cola Park in Allentown when he got the news.

"They told me to just keep doing what I'd been doing," he did.

Some 24 hours later, he was at Citizens Bank Park. His performance was impressive. Six gritty innings. Two singles. Zero runs. And one standing ovation as he departed what would soon turn into a 10-3 Phillies rout over the Mets. He even got his first big-league hit for good measure.

He conceded later that, given the Phillies' gold-plated rotation, he wasn't sure exactly when his chance would come.

"But, obviously, there are going to be opportunities," he said. "It was just a matter of when."

It wasn't easy. He needed 102 pitches. He had to pitch out of trouble a couple of times, including in the first, when back-to-back errors gave the Mets an early threat.

"All I can do is focus on my pitches. I can't stress and worry on it," he said with a shrug.

Said manager Charlie Manuel: "I thought he handled himself pretty good. He had some deep counts and worked out of them."

The Phillies still face legitimate questions about their offense, but those concerns were papered over by Ryan Howard's big night. He hit a two-run homer into the second deck in the fourth off Mets starter Mike Pelfrey in the fourth and a grand slam against reliever Dillon Gee in the sixth.

Mets pitching helped, too. The Phillies needed only two hits in the sixth and seventh to score their final half-dozen runs with the help of five walks, two hit batters, a wild pitch and a passed ball.

It wasn't a given that Worley would step in when Blanton went on the disabled list. The Phillies could have turned to long reliever Kyle Kendrick, who had 83 big-league starts, compared with Worley's two. If nothing else, it would have saved a roster move instead of having to option Mike Zagurski to Lehigh Valley, leaving the Phillies with Antonio Bastardo as the only lefty in the bullpen, to make room for catcher Dane Sardinha.

Another receiver was needed, because Carlos Ruiz isn't expected to be available for a few days with a sore back, but isn't deemed to be hurt enough to become the eighth Phillie on the disabled list.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. indicated there were multiple reasons for choosing Worley. Kendrick isn't stretched out, meaning Manuel probably would have had to go to the bullpen early, no matter what. Kendrick has pitched four perfect innings in his last three outings. The 23-year-old Worley was 2-2 with a 2.78 earned run average for the IronPigs. And, perhaps most important, his previous start was April 24 at Buffalo, meaning it was his day to pitch anyway.

"Luckily, that worked out for us," Amaro said.

The general manager added that, while the right elbow impingement that pushed Blanton to the DL seemed to come out of the blue, the team had known internally for a while that he was experiencing discomfort.

"He's been bothered by some soreness, but nothing he wasn't able to pitch through," Amaro said. "Then, this last time, he threw a bullpen and he really didn't get through it very well. So we decided to go ahead and have some of the studies done. We knew there was something wrong so we decided to play it cautious, let it cool down."


Ryan Howard's two homers gave him 259 for his career. That ties Del Ennis for second place on the Phillies' all-time list, behind only Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt (548). "I don't really even think of that kind of stuff when the season's going on," he said. "But it's special to be part of something like that with those kinds of guys" . . . Howard's grand slam in the sixth was the 10th of his career and his 27 RBI are a club record for April; Placido Polanco, with two hits, now has 39. That's also a team record for the month . . . With Wilson Valdez in a 1-for-22 slide, Pete Orr started at second base last night for the fourth time in the last eight games . . . The announced crowd was 45,613, the 135th consecutive regular-season sellout at Citizens Bank Park. *