Blanton part of big game from Bucs' bullpen

Blanton part of big game from Bucs' bullpen

NEW YORK -- Seven strong. That is the deserved new nickname of the Pittsburgh bullpen. Each of the seven relievers sitting out there have contributed to a pair of extra-inning victories over the Mets.

Saturday night, "seven strong" also referred to the number of shutout innings the bullpen provided in the 14-inning, 5-3 triumph that lifted the Bucs to a season high of 22 games above .500.

And no one provided more than Joe Blanton, who kept a lid on the Mets for three innings until the Pirates bats came through -- as he knew they would.

"They played good defense behind me and Cervy did a great job mixing it up," said Blanton, citing catcher Francisco Cervelli. "We just tried to hold it right there. We know our offense is good, and we were eventually going to score, so just hold it there as long as possible."

He held it there in the 11th, the 12th and the 13th. The Bucs did not have a reliever for whom such long hauls are routine until the non-waiver Trade Deadline acquisition of Blanton, who now has gone three innings twice in his four appearances for Pittsburgh.

The irony is that the Bucs decided to deal for Blanton after having him go 3 2/3 shutout innings against them on July 21 in Kansas City.

"That's what we saw in Kansas City, and what we saw the last time he did that for us," manager Clint Hurdle said. "All the pitches were working ... the fastball played so extremely well, the spin, the changeup. That's just an experienced guy out there with a slow heartbeat making pitches late in the game."

Blanton does so with a unique personal perspective. He thought he was done with baseball after being released in April 2014 by the Athletics. Circumstances got him back into the game, but he's on bonus time.

"Now, that doesn't mean you don't want to do good," said the 34-year-old righty, "but I think I am more relaxed. The way I look at it, if I don't look good, I'll just go home, which is where I was. I know what's that like, and it wasn't bad. So there's no pressure."

Ditto for pitching extra innings in front of pumped-up Mets fans in Citi Field.

"One bad pitch, the game is over," he said. "Obviously, there is more pressure. If you put it on yourself, it's there. If you don't, it's not."

Getting most of his strikeouts on "fastballs inside," Blanton registered six of them, the most the ex-starter (252 of 283 career games were in that capacity) has ever had out of the bullpen.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.