PHILADELPHIA -- It's been seven months since Joe Blanton was the starting pitcher for the A's against the Red Sox to open the season in Japan. And from Tokyo Dome to Citizens Bank Park and Game 4 of the World Series on Sunday night, a journey of 10,000 miles began with a single pitch. "Opening Day in Japan with the A's, that's pretty big," Blanton said on Saturday night. "There were a lot of people, a lot of media, it being an overseas deal and just a different event rather than a regular-season game."
Now with the Phillies, the right-handed Blanton is slated to start his first World Series game against Rays right-hander Andy Sonnastine. Philadelphia leads the best-of-seven series, 2-1, after Saturday night's rain-delayed, 5-4, win that ended in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Freed from the grasp of the A's on July 17, Blanton has started two postseason games for the Phillies, getting the win in Game 4 against the Brewers to help clinch the National League Division Series, and holding the Dodgers long enough in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series before the Phils came back to win that game. He has become one of the staples of the Phillies' rotation and his work has earned the confidence of manager Charlie Manuel. "Yeah, especially the last two times out," Manuel said. "The game against Milwaukee, I felt like that was his best game that I seen him pitch, and he was very aggressive, and he was in the strike zone with all his pitches. He had command that day and he stayed with the game plan very good. And I liked everything he did that day. And he pitched a heck of a game for us. "And then the one against the Dodgers, you know, he could have been a little bit sharper, but he took us to a place in the game and gave us a chance to definitely win it." Aside from a plethora of Japanese media, Sunday night won't replicate the mania of Opening Day in Japan, although Blanton may have a distinct advantage having started against Tampa Bay six times in his career -- including once this year -- logging a 2-2 record. "I think personal experience can help a little bit," Blanton said. The two-game Tokyo split turned out to be the highlight of Oakland's season. In the opener on March 25, Blanton worked into the sixth inning, allowing three runs on seven hits after the A's staked him to an early 2-0 lead. The Red Sox won, 6-5, in 10 innings.
The A's then reopened their season again a week later. "[Japan] was a little bit earlier than everybody else, plus all the travel," Blanton said. "And it does make [the season] feel long. But the trade kind of makes it feel long and short in kind of a weird way, because when you're traded, it almost makes everything move quickly and you're trying to learn a new city, new players and everything." Blanton was the last of the front-line pitchers to leave Oakland this year, following Dan Haren and Rich Harden. The Cubs got Harden to offset the division-rival Brewers obtaining CC Sabathia. And then the Phillies picked up Blanton to bolster their staff. He was 5-12 with a 4.96 ERA when Billy Beane, Oakland's general manager, dispatched him to the Phillies. In retrospect, Manuel thinks Blanton might have been nursing an injury after the deal. "I think he did have some tendinitis or something, and about the last two or three games he's pitched his stuff has been better," said Manuel about a pitcher who was 4-0 with a 4.20 ERA in his 13 starts for the Phillies. Make that 5-0 in 15 starts, including the playoffs. His start at Milwaukee in the NLDS clincher was masterful. Blanton struck out seven, walked none and kept the Brewers off balance for the better part of the first six innings as he retired 18 of the first 21 batters. In the bottom of the seventh, Prince Fielder opened with a full-count homer and J.J. Hardy followed with another single. And that was that. With the Red Sox eliminated by the Rays in a tough seven-game American League Championship Series, Blanton is the only player left standing from the March 25-26 Japan trip. It's been a long road from cherry blossoms surrounding the Emperor's Palace in March to a ballpark just miles from Independence Hall in October. "It's been a rough year, personally, just the ups and downs, for whatever reason," Blanton said. "Over there [in Oakland], it was almost like I couldn't catch a break the first half of the year. And sometimes that's the way things go. I kind of let myself get in a rut, which was an experience I'll take, and hopefully I'll learn from and not let it happen again. "And then the trade happens, it almost is like a new breath, because I was going to a new league, new team. It was almost like getting to start over. So it almost made me think, 'All right, I can start over here. I'm on a team competing for the playoffs.'" And now, that team is competing for the second World Series title in the 126-season history of the franchise.
Game 4: TALE OF THE TAPE
|Overall||32 GS, 13-9, 4.38 ERA, 37 BB, 124 K||33 GS, 9-12, 4.69 ERA, 66 BB, 111 K|
|Key stat||3.35 K/BB (eighth in AL)||PHI 11-4 in his starts (incl. playoffs)|
|2008||2 GS, 2-0, 3.46||2 GS, 1-0, 3.27|
|Career||2 GS, 2-0, 3.46||3 G, 2 GS, 1-0, 2.77|
|2008||No record||7 GS, 2-0, 3.55|
|Career||No record||7 GS, 2-0, 3.55|
|2008||No record||1 GS, 0-0, 6.00|
|Career||No record||8 GS, 2-3, 6.05|
|Loves to face||N/A||Jason Bartlett, 2-for-14|
|Hates to face||Matt Stairs, 4-for-12||Carlos Pena, 4-for-7|
|Why he'll win||2.82 ERA last six starts (incl. playoffs)||Has not lost since July 9|
|Pitcher beware||12 HR last 63 1/3 IP on road (incl. playoffs)||4-10 vs. AL this year with OAK|
|Bottom line||Pounds zone||Just win, baby|
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.