Sam Donnellon: Myers, Blanton should shoulder Phillies' playoff load

Posted: October 06, 2008

MILWAUKEE - Brett Myers.

Joe Blanton.

If you built a wish list before this National League Championship Series began, what would it contain? Hope Pat Burrell hits? Maybe. Hope Ryan Howard stays hot? Chase Utley? Shane Victorino? Yeah, maybe.

At the top, though, would be those two names:

Brett Myers.

Joe Blanton.

Together, they are the strongest argument for the Phillies going deep into October.

Together, they have been the strongest argument against it, too.

The Phillies scored enough runs in this series, the way the Dodgers scored enough runs in sweeping the Cubs. They scored enough runs because their starting pitchers allowed few, pitched out of trouble, peaked maybe, at the right time. The Dodgers have had Manny Ramirez since July 31, but their surge came in September, when their pitching stabilized.

Brett Myers stabilized in August. Joe Blanton went undefeated in September. They also built a friendship, a bond forged from surviving similar dire straits. "The Red-Neck Recking Crew, man," said Myers, pointing to the words on his champagne-soaked T-shirt in the visitors clubhouse following yesterday's clinching 6-2 win over the Brewers.

And like the two men themselves, interpretation often lay in that day's box score. Because before pitching his gem on Thursday, Myers had finished the season with a pair of harrowing starts, the kind that harkened to the first half of this season, the kind that gets you booed off your own field. Ten runs allowed in four innings against Florida. Six runs allowed over 4 1/3 innings in his final regular-season start against Atlanta.

Blanton had been better of course, undefeated in September despite making it past the sixth inning just once. Staked to a 7-1 lead in his last regularseason start, he left after the sixth inning with the score 7-4. Blanton had a 4.20 earned run average in 13 starts for the Phillies. He had tendonitis in his biceps, too. The premise for fans during his starts was pretty simple: Hope the bats come alive early and pray he can hold the lead until the National League's best bullpen can come into play.

"We were just not really getting the job done," Blanton was saying as a steady stream of champagne dripped from his goatee, as a steady stream of teammates and well-wishers hugged him as if they would wring him dry.

For six-plus innings yesterday Blanton did more than just get the job done, did what Myers had done 3 days before. For six-plus innings he deadened the bats of a Brewers lineup that had pounded out 11 hits less than 24 hours before, deadened the thunder sticks in the stands repeatedly as well. Before Prince Fielder's home run to start the seventh, he had allowed just three baserunners and did not walk a batter, getting a slew of early outs after Brewers hitters had repeatedly fouled off pitches.

"That's as good as I've ever seen him throw, probably," Milwaukee manager Dale Sveum said.

"Hitting is contagious," Myers said. "Pitching is, too. We definitely wanted to go and match what went before us. What Cole did to get this thing started."

It's been a common theme this week, that big-game pitcher stuff. Cole Hamels wants to be known as one. Brett Myers, too. Jamie Moyer, despite Saturday's struggles, is one. Blanton was making his first postseason start yesterday, and against the postseason stud of 2006, Jeff Suppan.

No one knew what to expect. Even if Myers said he did.

"He's a big-game pitcher who wants the ball," he said of Blanton.

Maybe it had something to do with each man's turnaround, maybe it's just a natural offshoot of common roots and experience, but the wish-list duo have bonded through this tumultuous season. Jimmy Rollins mentioned this the other day, that Myers had "taken Blanton under his wing," which is still kind of a harrowing thought. But the two sit together on buses and planes, said Rollins, Myers talking a mile a minute, Blanton nodding and making his points when he can.

It's a nonstop conversation sometimes, Rollins said.

A one-way conversation sometimes, too.

"Sometimes Blanton looks over at us like, does this guy ever stop?" said Rollins. "But he doesn't move, so he must like it."

Said Blanton, "When you can relate to somebody about that, it makes it a little easier for yourself to be able to talk back and forth.

"You know that they know how you feel."

He nodded over toward Myers, a few feet to his left, drenched from head to toe from all kinds of fizz. The two men have been through their respective hells this season, for sure. There was a time not long ago when your arms might have wanted to wring something other than champagne from both, when it seemed they were getting in the way of your greatest wishes.

Not now. Now Brett Myers and Joe Blanton channel those dreams.

And the idea of riding them to a world championship is more plausible than preposterous. *

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