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Tampa Bay Rays World Series: Blanton is Phils' unlikely hero

PHILADELPHIA — Joe Blanton. Joe Blanton?

A 27-year-old journeyman pitcher became a World Series hero in a town craving them Sunday, throwing a six-inning four-hitter, allowing two runs and striking out seven to push the Phillies to the brink of their first World Series title in 28 years.

Blanton didn't look like a consolation prize acquired when the Phillies failed to land CC Sabathia midsummer. And he didn't look like a guy whose postseason experience before this season was two relief innings in 2006.

Blanton, who had an NLDS win against Milwaukee and an average NLCS no-decision against the Dodgers, never allowed two runners aboard in the same inning until the sixth, when he walked Carlos Pena and hit Carl Crawford. But he struck out Dioner Navarro to end his night.

Oh, and he became the first pitcher in 34 years to hit a home run in the World Series. Blanton leaned into an Edwin Jackson pitch in the fifth and put it in the leftfield bleachers.

SS Jimmy Rollins was stunned.

"He dropped his head, and I was like, 'He knows he got that, doesn't he?,' " Rollins said. "Wow."

COCKED AND READY: Cole Hamels is cocky, manager Charlie Manuel said. Good cocky. And he likes it.

"I guess that's great that my manager thinks I'm cocky," Hamels said. "Really, I just have the confidence to go out there. I know I can do well. I have a team behind me that believes in me, and I will be able to do the job the right way if I focus and I guess really hit my locations."

Hamels has done that. He is 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 29 postseason innings. He allowed two earned runs on five hits to win Game 1 and is scheduled to start Game 5 today with a chance to close out the Series.

Hamels, who grew up playing in a deep San Diego-area talent pool, learned as a teenager that a mid-90s fastball was not enough. He didn't have one anyway, didn't until he was almost 20 and playing for Clearwater in the Florida State League, so he developed a circle change that has become one of baseball's best.

"I call him Hollywood because he likes the bright lights," Rollins said. "And the lights are definitely going to be bright (today)."

POWER UP: The Phillies' key hitters have returned. Rollins went 3-for-5 and scored three runs and Ryan Howard 3-for-4 with five RBIs on two homers. The Phillies are 48-15 when Rollins scores.

Tampa Bay Rays World Series: Blanton is Phils' unlikely hero 10/26/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 31, 2008 7:14pm]
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