On eve of opener, Blanton recalls blast
Phillies righty fondly remembers going deep in World Series
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The flatbed trucks crawled down Broad Street last October, slicing through a sea of red.
"Way to go, Joe!"
It seems every fan who caught the attention of Joe Blanton during the Phillies' World Series championship parade last October swung an imaginary bat and hit an imaginary baseball, which sailed over an imaginary fence for a home run.
"Hey, I pitched, too," Blanton joked with his teammates.
The Phillies, who open their Grapefruit League schedule Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. ET against the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., beat the Rays in Game 4 of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park, 10-2. Ryan Howard went 3-for-5 with two home runs and five RBIs. Jayson Werth homered. Jimmy Rollins went 3-for-5.
Blanton allowed four hits and two runs in six splendid innings to pick up the win.
But while most fans seem to remember the score and Howard's bombs, they seem to remember one thing more than any other: Blanton's two-out solo homer off Edwin Jackson in the fifth to give the Phillies a 6-2 lead.
The homer often came up in conversations throughout the winter in Philadelphia. Somebody would mention Game 4 and somebody always seemed to ask, "Which one was that again?"
"The Blanton home run game."
Oh, yeah, that one.
"Besides getting the win and throwing a good game, the only thing I would have traded the home run for would be a no-hitter," said Blanton, who will pitch Wednesday against Pittsburgh. "That's something real special. [There was] a lot of luck in there. It was kind of the right place at the right time kind of deal for me."
Blanton, who was 2-for-33 (.061) in his career as a hitter before that at-bat, never got the ball back. He doesn't have the bat, either. He gave that to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
"There's nothing much cooler than that, having your bat in the Hall of Fame," he said. "Having it in the Hall of Fame is better than having it on the wall in my house, or sitting in the garage collecting dust or something like that. It's not very often you can have something go into the Hall of Fame. It makes it a little more special to me."
Blanton became the first pitcher to hit a home run in the World Series since Oakland's Ken Holtzman in 1974.
It took everybody by surprise.
"I was sitting backward in the chair in the bullpen when he homered," reliever Clay Condrey said. "As soon as he hit it, I just fell forward. The chair hit the ground and then I ran out to watch it. It was quick."
Blanton still recalls the home run trot. It was almost like ...
"I didn't know what to do," Blanton said. "It shocked me more than anybody else. It was something so unexpected that it went by just like that. And then by the time I realized I homered, I was already in the dugout. There were two outs, and I was trying to calm myself down, because I knew I had to go out there and pitch. I was trying to get refocused on that, so I didn't have a lot of time to enjoy it. I didn't want to go out there and give up three runs the next inning, you know?"
The Phillies acquired Blanton in a trade with the A's on July 17 for prospects Josh Outman, Adrian Cardenas and Matthew Spencer. Blanton battled tendinitis in his shoulder early on, but went 4-0 with a 4.20 ERA in 13 starts with Philadelphia.
The Phillies went 9-4 in the games he started.
Blanton then went 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA in three postseason starts.
He came to the Phillies not knowing anybody. Now he is very comfortable with his surroundings.
Winning a World Series always helps.
"There's definitely more of a comfort level," Blanton said. "It was just different being traded. I had always been with one team, so it was the same guys coming through. The same coaches. I didn't know anybody over here, but the guys were awesome. They made me feel like part of the team from the first day I got here. That made the transition for me very easy and made it very pleasurable."
Blanton went 16-12 for the A's in 2006, and 14-10 for them in '07. The Phillies think he can replicate that success in a full season in Philadelphia.
"We got the Joe Blanton we hope to see in the last month and a half of the season," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "Joe is a professional. Everything he does, he tries to do to perfection. He's a man of very few words. He lets his talking be done by his actions."
On one crisp October night, Blanton let his bat do his talking. And nobody will forget that anytime soon.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.