The game story that wasn't, yet still relevant

Writer's note: Time for a Behind the Music-esque retrospective.

Us writer folk have fun with this kind of stuff: The stories that hit the cutting-room floor thanks to a crazy ending, much like Thursday's 10-9 come-from-behind Phillies' victory. Think about how many game stories were written and ready to send proclaiming the Red Sox as world champions in 1986.

Joe Blanton ended up not being the story Thursday, but that doesn't mean his outing should be forgotten. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)

When Jonathan Broxton came into the game in the ninth inning, my story for Friday's newspaper was already written with the Phillies losing. For those unfamiliar with how our deadlines work: I send a version of the game story immediately when the final out is made each night. That's what goes in our early editions and online right away.

As soon as Broxton hit Placido Polanco, I opened a new file and started writing an alternate game story. Now I won't bore you, but typically, writers have different quirks. Some won't start writing a new story until they absolutely have to. They don't want to jinx having to trash the one they've already composed.

Of course, we all know what happened. My original game story was rendered useless when Carlos Ruiz hit a double off the wall to win the game.

But I re-read my first game story this morning and most of what I wrote still highlighted an important issue the Phillies face in the final 48 games of the season: Will they attempt to skip Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton as often as possible?

So without further ado, here it is. (Note: The Xs represent stuff that was to be added. It, obviously, never was. And there are stats written as if the Phillies lost, so remember that.)

By Matt Gelb

Should the Phillies make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, it will be hard to match the trio of aces atop their starting rotation. In a short series, those pitchers make the Phillies incredibly imposing, much like the three-man rotation the Yankees rode to a championship in 2009.

Of course, getting to the playoffs is still in doubt. To do that, the Phils have to use a five-man rotation, which means wins must come from pitchers not named Roy or Cole.

Against the Dodgers this week, that did not happen. The Phillies lost, XX-XX, to Los Angeles on Thursday after Joe Blanton put his team in an early hole. The Dodgers took two of three from the Phils because fifth starter Kyle Kendrick couldn't make it through the fourth inning Tuesday.

These days, with an unreliable middle relief corps, the Phillies need as many innings from their starters as possible.

Even after all the miserable pitching, Raul Ibanez still came to the plate as the tying run in the eighth inning with his 18-game hitting streak on the line. But he grounded out to second. Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton, pitching at Citizens Bank Park for the first time since blowing Game 4 of the 2009 National League Championship Series, XXXXX

The Phils never led because Blanton, yet again, was hit in the first inning. In 19 starts, the righthander has allowed 18 first-inning runs. On Thursday, Los Angeles sent nine men to the plate in the first inning and scored three times off Blanton.

Scott Podsednik led off with a single but Blanton retired the next two batters on groundouts to second. He walked James Loney and then proceeded to allow three straight two-out, run-scoring singles. None of them were hit particularly hard but did enough damage. Blanton threw 38 pitches in the first inning, which meant Phillies manager Charlie Manuel would need clean innings from the middle of his bullpen, a risky proposition of late.

Blanton lasted 5 2/3 innings, throwing 115 pitches, his second-most this season. It was especially discouraging given Blanton's last start, when he allowed just two earned runs in seven innings against the Mets. That was his best outing of the season.

Regardless, his season ERA sits at an unsightly 5.69. The Phillies are now 8-11 in games started by Blanton, who signed a three-year, $24 million extension in the off-season.

It hasn't helped that in the last two games started by Blanton and Kendrick, the bullpen has actually made the starting pitcher look more effective.

The Phillies trailed 3-2 in the fourth after an RBI single by Carlos Ruiz. But Blanton allowed a fifth-inning run and the bullpen took it from there.

Chad Durbin, J.C. Romero and Jose Contreras each allowed runs in the seventh and eighth innings. The bullpen's ERA is 5.16 in August and remains a growing concern.

It looked even worse when the Phillies scored four times in the bottom of the eighth. Without the Dodgers' tack-on runs, it should have been a game.

It's a small sample size, but this week, Blanton and Kendrick made a fine case for the Phillies to skip them as often as possible to start Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt or Cole Hamels in more games. The Phils have five off days remaining in the final seven weeks of the season.

Granted, for both Blanton and Kendrick, it was just one bad outing following a few decent ones that had the Phillies confident in their entire rotation -- enough to not skip either pitcher after Monday's day off.

But as the calendar creeps closer to September and the pennant race with the Braves intensifies, one bad start becomes all the more important.