Blanton, Phils cut magic number to 2

Joe Blanton allowed two earned runs in seven innings of work Friday night against the Mets. (Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer)

Joe Blanton lives in relative obscurity because, well, he is not a member of the Big Three.

All of the attention is on the three Phillies aces, the pitchers who almost certainly hold the team's destiny in a quest for a third consecutive National League pennant.

"Joe is the kind of guy, he doesn't need a lot of attention," manager Charlie Manuel said last week. "Really. That's who he is."

That's what made the sixth inning of Friday's 3-2 win over the New York Mets so awkward. Here was Blanton, lying on his stomach where the dirt and grass meet near first base. The sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park stood, cheering and waving its white towels as a salute to the pitcher who has been almost forgotten during the Phillies' stunning run of success in the last month.

But do not forget this: If the Phillies are to win another World Series, Blanton will play a significant role. The Big Three - Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels - could start 17 of a potential 19 postseason games. The other two? Those are Blanton's.

The postseason is all but assured now for the Phillies, who own the best record in baseball at 93-61. Their magic number is two, which means they can clinch a fourth straight NL East title Saturday with a victory over the Mets and an Atlanta Braves loss.

"We're getting close," Manuel said.

Their 11th straight win did not come without some tense moments in the ninth. With Mets runners on the corners, the Phillies thought they had the game won when Jesus Feliciano hit a comebacker to Brad Lidge. But umpires had granted a time-out before the pitch so the Mets could use a pinch-runner.

"I think that was terrible," Manuel said.

"That's a little ridiculous," Lidge said.

Wasn't it even stranger that the pinch-runner was coming with an 0-1 pitch?

"Whatever," Manuel said.

Lidge recovered to strike out Feliciano and save Blanton's performance. But the Mets were steaming afterward about a hard Chase Utley slide at second baseman Ruben Tejada in the fifth inning.

"We're going to have to reevaluate the way we go into second base," Mets third baseman David Wright told reporters after the game. Utley declined to comment.

Aside from that circus, the most important development to come out of Friday's game was Blanton. If he can do what he did Friday, the Phillies surely will be confident in handing him the ball in the postseason.

In seven innings, Blanton threw just 74 pitches. He allowed two runs, both coming via an Angel Pagan home run that was hit on a hanging change-up Blanton wanted back as soon as it left his hand.

"It seems like every game he pitches, whether he wins or loses, I always feel like we have a chance," Manuel said.

The Phils have won nine of the last 10 games Blanton has started. He has a 3.36 ERA in that span and has overcome a horrendous start to the season to become the pitcher the Phillies envisioned when they signed the righthander to a three-year, $24 million contract in the off-season.

So, how did Blanton end up on his stomach Friday? He sprinted from the mound to field a slow grounder by Pagan. As his momentum was taking him to the ground, he scooped the ball in one motion from his glove to Ryan Howard's in time for the out.

"It was about a half-of-a-percent chance I make that play," Blanton said.

He is lucky, and fine with going unnoticed as the Other Guy to the Big Three.

"I kind of just slip in," Blanton said. Other teams "aren't really thinking about you. It's like, 'We don't have one of them today. Doesn't matter who else as long as we didn't get them.' "


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at 215-854-2928 or Follow on Twitter @magelb.