Phillies defeat Pirates, 8-3

Jimmy Rollins scores in the first. In the fourth, he blasted a homer off a billboard hanging from the second deck in right.
Jimmy Rollins scores in the first. In the fourth, he blasted a homer off a billboard hanging from the second deck in right. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff)
Posted: June 27, 2012

The fans were bored because the Phillies were winning big, but boredom is preferable to apathy these days. So the wave started Monday in the seventh inning of an 8-3 rout of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the toxic atmosphere that has invaded a ballpark for much of this season eroded.

It's a long way to relevancy for the Phillies. Nights like Monday made it look easier. Or, as Chase Utley - mere days away from returning - said beforehand, "All it takes is one good bounce our way and things can change."

There were three good bounces Monday.

The Phillies jumped out to a four-run lead with the assistance of three Pirates errors in the first inning. They kept tacking onto the early advantage and cruised on a blustery night at Citizens Bank Park.

"We forced their hand and made things happen," starter Joe Blanton said. "It was good to see. There was a lot of energy from our players tonight, and that makes the game fun."

After two losses and a bounty of criticism from a desolate Sunday, this was the answer a last-place team wanted. Blanton's right arm carried the Phillies for seven innings. Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz torched another opposing pitcher. The Phillies beat a Pirates team that would have qualified for the postseason had it begun Monday.

Pittsburgh hardly looked the part in a sloppy first inning that decided the game. The Pirates made two throwing errors on the same play, prompting the sellout crowd to applaud but also snicker.

The three first-inning errors were wretched, but opportunistic Phillies runners helped force them.

"We were aggressive," manager Charlie Manuel said. "They started throwing the ball around."

When Carlos Ruiz smacked a Jeff Karstens sinker to right, Hunter Pence dashed from first for third. Jose Tabata's throw was bad, and Pence scrambled home. Pedro Alvarez, the third baseman, grabbed the stray ball and promptly tossed it back to right field while trying to nab Ruiz at second.

It put Ruiz at third, and he scored on a Shane Victorino single. Victorino forced another Tabata throw when going from first to third on a Placido Polanco single, and that, too, skipped past third. Victorino scored.

That was enough for Blanton, who allowed two earned runs in seven solid innings even though another home run was crushed off him.

"It does help things," Blanton said of the quick lead. "It allows you to throw some mistakes. I tried to pound the zone a little extra."

Blanton has allowed homers in nine consecutive starts, the longest such streak for a Phillies pitcher since 2001 when Bruce Chen did it in 10 straight starts. His 18 home runs allowed tie him with Atlanta's Mike Minor for the league lead.

But 13 of those 18 dingers were solo shots - just as Tabata's was Monday. Blanton's excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is second among all major-league starters, has helped limit baserunners ahead of the homers. He struck out eight against one walk Monday, raising his season total to 82 strikeouts and 13 walks. That's a 6.31 ratio, far eclipsing his previous best of 3.89 in 2011. Only Texas' Colby Lewis has a better ratio in 2012 at 7.50.

The Phillies mashed Blanton's opponent, Karstens, with ease. He was making his first start in 69 days because of shoulder and hip injuries. He had held the Phillies to one run in six innings on the season's second day in Pittsburgh, but that felt like eons ago on Monday.

Karstens' defense was not solely at fault. In the fourth, the righthander grooved a 3-0 sinker to Rollins, who destroyed it for a two-run bomb.

Rollins is driving the ball with regularity for the first time in 2012. He has homered in four consecutive games and has 20 extra-base hits in his last 30 games. He is hitting .316 in that span.

"He's getting his timing down," Manuel said, and it's better late than never, much like a sound all-around victory Monday.

Contact Matt Gelb at Follow @magelb on Twitter.

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