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Blanton prepared for first playoff start

Blanton prepared for first playoff start

MILWAUKEE -- Joe Blanton's rise to prominence with the Phillies hasn't come without consequence. These days, fellow starter Brett Myers shadows Blanton wherever he goes, chatting, joking, at times even teaching. Known in the clubhouse for his harsh wit, Myers has ditched that persona to become something of Blanton's mentor.

"He sits right in front of him on the airplane," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "Sometimes Blanton looks over at us like, 'Does this guy ever stop?' But he doesn't move, so he must like it."

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Certainly Myers won't be talking to Blanton during Sunday's National League Division Series Game 4, made necessary when the Phillies lost to the Brewers, 4-1, in Game 3. Blanton will take the mound Sunday for his first career postseason start and second playoff appearance, with a chance to send the Phillies to the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers.
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"You know the intensity is there and it's the playoffs, but you really just try to treat it like another game," Blanton said. "Just try to stay focused and know in the back of your mind that you need to step it up."

The Phillies waited until after Saturday's Game 3 loss to officially announce Blanton as their Sunday starter, despite an overwhelming assumption to that end.

"Joe Blanton is our fourth starter," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said before Game 3, only insinuating what he would not officially announce.

Yet that much didn't affect Blanton, who was preparing all week long to start -- despite the strong possibility that he might not have been needed. By the time Manuel made his official announcement, only about 15 hours remained until Blanton's scheduled first pitch. But that, too, meant nothing.

"I've been mentally prepared the whole time," Blanton said. "I feel like the only way you could look at it is there was going to be a game. I felt like if I looked at it any other way, I wouldn't be physically or mentally ready. So I just went through the whole process. I've been ready for this game."

The Phillies' foremost trade acquisition this summer, Blanton stumbled in his first start with the club before catching fire in early August and ending the season with a four-game winning streak. He is not as consistent as Jamie Moyer, nor as naturally talented as Cole Hamels. But he has shown a certain durability over the first five years of his career -- he pitched through a bout of biceps tendinitis after joining the Phils -- and a certain knack for winning.

GAME 4: JUST THE FACTS
Miller Park, 1:07 p.m. ET
Phillies starter: RHP Joe Blanton
2008: 9-12, 4.69 ERA (4-0, 4.20 ERA with Phillies; 5-12, 4.96 with A's)
2008 on the road: 5-3, 5.37 ERA (2-0, 4.96 ERA with Phillies, 3-3, 5.73 with A's)
2008 vs. Brewers: 0-0, 3.86 ERA
Career vs. Brewers: 0-0, 3.86 ERA
Career postseason: 0-0, -.-- ERA
Brewers starter: RHP Jeff Suppan
2008: 10-10, 4.96 ERA
2008 at home: 3-3, 4.36 ERA
2008 vs. Phillies: 0-1, 5.91 ERA
Career vs. Phillies: 3-6, 6.20 ERA
Career postseason: 3-3, 3.00 ERA
Phillies lead series, 2-1. The team that has won Game 1 of an NLDS is 23-3 in those series. On Saturday night, the Brewers became the fourth of 17 teams down 0-2 in the NLDS to win Game 3 and prolong the series.
Game 3: Brewers 4, Phillies 1
Did You Know? In 1982, when the Brewers came back from 0-2 in the ALCS to win three straight against the Angels and reach the World Series, the final three games were all played at Milwaukee's County Stadium. The format then was that the team with the better record played two on the road and then three straight at home. Now the format is 2-2-1.

Blanton has yet to drop a decision since heading east from Oakland.

"I've got confidence in him," Manuel said. "He's capable of pitching a real good ballgame. I think he'll be OK."

Blanton faced the Brewers three weeks ago for the first time in his career, holding them to three runs over seven innings but taking a no-decision in a 7-3 victory. Yet Sunday's matchup might not be ideal. Right-handed batters have hit Blanton at a .286 clip this season, and it's worth noting that the Brewers rely on their right-handed power to succeed. Blanton has also served up 22 home runs -- 10 of them in 70 2/3 innings since joining the Phillies -- which doesn't bode well against one of the league's foremost power threats.

Even so, the Tigers were a fine power-hitting team in 2006 when Blanton, then with the A's, blanked them over two relief innings in the American League Championship Series. It's a small sample size, yes, but it was enough to give Blanton a significant piece of October experience -- the type that might come in handy at Miller Park.

"They have a good offense," Blanton said of the Brewers. "Top to bottom. It's a team you can't let up against. You can't give them any slack, and a team that's good top through bottom. They'll make you work a lot, and you just have to come out and do your best and just step up to the challenge."

Luckily for Blanton, he has a mentor in Myers -- someone who will chatter, according to Rollins, even when Blanton doesn't feel like listening. Myers, for his part, did his job on Thursday, carving through the Brewers in Game 2 -- a bit of redemption, perhaps, for his uneven season.

"We both kind of had the same struggles to start off the year," Blanton said of Myers. "Just kind of nothing was going our way."

Now, Blanton has an opportunity to ensure that everything falls toward him, toward Myers, and toward the rest of the Phillies. And should he succeed, his ticket to the NLCS will be waiting.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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