"I'm just trying to go out and keep us in the game, let us score runs," he said after the Phillies' 9-2 victory. "I'm not trying to prove anything. I just like to throw a lot of innings."
You have read so much over the last few weeks about obtaining a horse, an ace, a top-of-the- rotation guy. Roy Halladay. Cliff Lee. Joe Blanton has never been described as any of these, has won more than 14 games in a season just once, and is just 7-4 this season.
But when he is on a stretch like he is now, like he was during the second half of his rookie season in 2005, or during a stretch of the 2007 season, he can look like a big-time wagon puller. That Blanton, the one who has become the Phillies' most dependable starter over the last 2 months, hits on all the tangibles, and a few big intangibles as well.
Blanton allowed seven hits over eight innings yesterday. He struck out six, walked just one, threw 77 strikes over 108 pitches. He has finished the seventh inning in five of his last six starts, and over his last 13 his earned run average is 3.04.
This month he is 3-0 in four starts, with a 1.21 ERA. He leads all Phillies starters in innings with 118 1/3, leads them in quality starts with 12 and now leads in strikeouts as well. And yet what makes him most proud, what makes him the kind of arm that teammates covet more than general managers do, is how little he thought of any of this yesterday - and what he thought of instead.
"On a day like today you don't want to throw a lot of pitches in an inning, because that can really get you," he said. "If it is hot, I don't want my fielders out there, standing around, killing their legs, and then they get up to the plate and their bat is a tick slower. Fastball beats it, because I just threw 30 pitches that inning. Instead of maybe them hitting a home run."
Maybe it's coincidence, maybe not, but three of the four home runs hit in the game were off the bats of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins - three infielders. The way Rollins is going these days, he could hit after an hour in the sauna, but Utley entered the game on a 3-for-23 run this homestand - and delivered three hits.
"I tried to be aggressive, throw a lot of pitches down, hopefully get a lot of ground balls, make my defense do the work and make it as quick as possible," Blanton said. "It's a lot better sitting on the bench with the fan blowing on you than standing around in that heat."
The Cardinals surrendered runs in five of the eight innings the Phillies batted in. As they have for most of their current hot stretch, the Phillies took pitches, worked counts, advanced runners - played playoff baseball. It was in stark contrast to much of the season's first 2 months, when they fell in big holes early - largely due to ineffective starting pitching.
Blanton was no horse back then. Back then, an inning like the first might have led to more runs, the ball Holliday hit actually reaching the ivy rather than settling into Victorino's glove. Pitch selection, pitch placement, has been the difference between a sacrifice fly now and a three-run bomb then.
"It was kind of biting me there for a little bit," he said. "Even when I felt like I was throwing the ball well, like now, I was still giving up five runs in an inning. I just tried to focus in a little more. For the whole game, but with runners on for sure. Keep the ball down. Try not to give up the big home run.
"Solo home runs won't kill you. Those crooked-number home runs were getting me."
Blanton has allowed three runs or fewer in 10 of his last 11 starts. The Phillies are 23-12 in his 35 starts since joining them at last summer's trade deadline, including 3-0 in the postseason.
It's the stuff aces are made of, the kind of numbers that can steady a staff. A lot can slip between the cup and the lip, as Don King loves to say. Still, imagine a postseason rotation of Halladay, Cole Hamels and Blanton.
"You can never have too many of those guys," Blanton said, when asked about a deadline deal. "That's the way I look at it."
It's the closest thing to bragging he's going to get.
Which is yet another of his intangibles that teammates love. *
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