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Blanton steady, Howard grand as Phillies beat Cardinals

Blanton steady, Howard grand as Phillies beat Cardinals
ST. LOUIS - It wasn't like the pitcher's mound was an island and Joe Blanton was stranded out there all by himself.

No, the big righthander hadn't pitched particularly well this season. Yes, the Phillies need him to get himself straightened out if they would like to add to the hardware collection that they expanded last October.

Still, the same could be said of any Phillies starting pitcher not named Cole Hamels.

At the same time, every turnaround has to start somewhere. And Busch Stadium, against the team with Baseball's best record, is as good a place as any.

The Cardinals started the night third in the league in batting average (.280) and second in runs scored (140). Against Blanton last night, though, they managed just a run on four hits in his six innings as the Phillies , backed by another grand slam by Ryan Howard, coasted to their seventh win in nine games, 6-1.

The biggest difference in Blanton, from Charlie Manuel's view at the end of the bench, was that his mistakes were better located.

"He kept the ball down," the manager said. "And when he was missing, he was missing down. When the game started, I thought he had good stuff. I kind of expected him to go even deeper than he did."

Too often earlier this season, Blanton left hittable pitches in the middle of the strike zone. Not very often did the hitters miss.

Blanton said he made some adjustments in the bullpen, mechanical adjustments involving his slider.

"That was a big pitch for me," he said. His first win of the season raised his record to 1-2 and lowered his earned run average to 6.84. But he insisted he was never concerned that he wouldn't get himself straightened out.

"The first win isn't that big a deal, but sometimes it's the toughest one to get," he said. "I've been through worse starts. I think I was 0-5 in 2005 at the beginning of the season. I didn't win a game for 2 months.

"We know that we can pitch. We know what we did last year. We know we can do it again. I think everybody kind of understood that we're not going to go through the whole season with an ERA of seven or nine or 12."

Manuel would concede to at least a small sense of relief that the rotation seems to be regaining its balance.

"That's how we're going to get consistent," he said. "They say hitting is contagious. Well, pitching can be contagious, too. It's like Jamie Moyer [last Saturday]. He gave up five runs, but he took us to the place we needed to be.

"We played pretty good tonight. We're kind of getting it together. We're starting to get into our flow of the season and definitely getting better. That's what's going to win for us again. We've got the players. We've got the talent. We just have to go out and do it on the field."

Blanton, while happy with his progress, wasn't quite ready to declare himself all the way back just yet.

"I think I made a good step," he said. "I can't go as far as to say I'm where I need to be. There are still a couple adjustments I need to make, but I think it was definitely an improvement."

Howard broke the game open with a grand slam off Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse in the fifth. Which doesn't come as a shock.

The St. Louis native is now batting .383 in his hometown after going 2-for-3 with a walk. He has seven homers and 28 RBI in 59 at-bats. "I never get tired of coming here," he said. "It's always good to come home and play in front of the hometown fans."

The grand slam was also his second of the season and seventh of his career, tying him with Mike Schmidt for first place in Phillies history.

The Phillies have hit four grand slams this season, including one each by Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino.

Even after Howard's slam, there were a couple occasions when the game reached a fork in the road. With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Blanton gave up back-to-back singles to bring Albert Pujols to the plate. Pujols hit the ball on the button . . . but right at Ibanez in left.

In the sixth he loaded the bases with one out, then pitched out of trouble.

And that left the Phillies with some hope that their rotation was starting to round into shape.

PhillersCardinals centerfielder Rick Ankiel had to be taken off the field on a cart after making a nice running catch to take extra bases away from Pedro Feliz in the eighth. Ankiel leaned forward to make the play as he reached the warning track then, unable to stop his momentum, crashed facefirst into the fence. St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said Ankiel was taken to a hospital for evaluation. Dr. George Paletta , the team physician, told La Russa that Ankiel showed signs of whiplash and puffiness in his face . . . Shane Victorino extended his hitting streak to 13 games and his string of consecutive games with at least one run scored to nine when he singled in the fifth and came home on Ryan Howard's grand slam. *

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: May 5, 2009

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