Joe Blanton, Jonathan Papelbon pitch Phillies past Los Angeles Dodgers

Posted: July 18, 2012

LOS ANGELES - The dream, impossible as it may seem, is to make this baseball season interesting again.

Win series after series after series and see whether it's enough to get into the playoffs come October.

You may not believe it can happen, but the Phillies have to believe.

The only way they will add converts is by beating good teams, a mission they rarely have accomplished this season.

On Monday night, for only the 19th time in 55 games, the Phillies beat a team that currently has a record of .500 or better.

They won, 3-2, at Dodger Stadium against the same Los Angeles team that swept a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park in early June.

They won because Joe Blanton provided eight sensational innings, holding the Dodgers to two runs on six hits, none of which was a home run.

"He was good, very good," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He didn't walk anybody. He didn't give up no home runs. At times, he threw some really good low fastballs and he used all his pitches. He changed speeds very good."

Offensive support came on an RBI single from Juan Pierre in the first inning and solo home runs from Jimmy Rollins in the third and Ryan Howard in the fourth.

Howard's blast was his first since Sept. 11 of last season, when the Phillies had the best record in baseball and a realistic shot at winning the World Series. Now, they are scrambling to become relevant again.

"It felt good," Howard said. "We won the game and it felt good to be able to go out there and contribute."

Blanton (8-8) was the best story. He had allowed a home run in 11 consecutive starts and entered the game with a 4.98 ERA, but on this comfortably cool California night, he pitched like an ace.

His best work came in the seventh and eighth innings.

Juan Rivera and James Loney hit consecutive singles to open the seventh, and the Phillies failed to turn a tailor-made double play on a ball hit back to the mound by Luis Cruz. That could have been a deadly mistake, but Blanton struck out A.J. Ellis for the second out of the inning and, after allowing a run to score on a wild pitch, he retired pinch-hitter Bobby Abreu to preserve a one-run lead.

"It was a wild inning," Blanton said. "You get a couple of guys on with nobody out and you've got a lead, you just have to try to limit the damage and keep the lead, and I did that. As a pitcher, you are always happy to come out with a lead in that situation."

Blanton convinced Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee that he had enough to get through the eighth inning against the top of the Los Angeles order. He rewarded his manager's faith with a 1-2-3 inning that ended with a strikeout of Matt Kemp, the most dangerous hitter in the Dodgers' lineup.

Rollins' home run was intriguing because he suddenly has become the subject of swirling trade talk, with the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants as possible landing spots because both are contending teams in need of a shortstop.

Given Rollins' salary and his full no-trade clause, it would be a difficult deal to execute, but that's what makes this time of year so entertaining.

Manuel vividly remembered the Phillies-Dodgers series in Philadelphia earlier this season. It included three one-run losses and a lopsided defeat in the series finale.

"We had some close games against the Dodgers at home and they swept us, and actually that kind of put us in a tailspin," Manuel said. "All those games were close, and late in the game they always got the big hit and made the right play . . . and they swept us."

That was indeed the start of a monstrous freefall in which the Phillies dropped from one game above .500 all the way to 14 games under after Friday night's loss in Colorado.

Now, the Phillies have won three in a row for just the third time this season and need to take one of the final two games at Dodger Stadium to claim their second straight series victory. The last time the Phillies won consecutive series was the end of May, when they took three of four in St. Louis and two of three against the Mets in New York.

That was one of the few high points in a season engulfed by a firestorm of remarkable lows.

The Phillies finally have their best lineup available with the recent returns of Chase Utley and Howard, so they appear to be better equipped to play against the good teams such as the Dodgers and the Giants, who will come to Philadelphia on Friday.

"Sometimes just the presence of a guy can go a long way," Blanton said. "It doesn't matter if he is in midseason form or not, sometimes that presence means something for you . . . so hopefully we can feed off them."

The Phillies have won three in a row for the first time since May 23 to 26. Roy Halladay landed on the disabled list the following day. Now, Halladay makes his return Tuesday, with Cliff Lee scheduled to pitch the series finale on Wednesday.

For the first time in quite a while, the Phillies have something to feel good about.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com. Follow @brookob on Twitter.

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