Joe Blanton

A couple of the most notable pitcher playoff home runs ever came from Phillies

A couple of the most notable pitcher playoff home runs ever came from Phillies

As we wrap up a look back at the 2008 Phillies World Series run, it would be remiss not to note how Joe Blanton could go down in history. If the new proposal of a National League designated hitter becomes permanent, Blanton could be the last starting pitcher to hit a home run in the World Series. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most notable home runs by a pitcher in baseball’s postseason. Fittingly, two of them are Phillies. 

Steve Carlton 
Game: 1978 NLCS Game 3 off Don Sutton

Carlton's three-run home run at Dodger Stadium gave the Phillies a 4-0 lead and it helped them capture their only win of the four-game series. Fun fact: Carlton hit just 13 homers in a little more than 1,700 at-bats over a 24-year career, but none bigger than the one in Los Angeles. 

Joe Blanton
Game: 2008 World Series Game 4 off Edwin Jackson 

This was not the most recent pitcher-belted homer in the postseason overall, but it was the most recent in a World Series. Sure, Blanton’s home run made it a 6-2 game in the fifth en route to an eight-run win for the Phillies. But being the last to do something is a fun distinction and one that Blanton could hold for years to come, especially as a starting pitcher. Yes, in a crazy 15-inning game, a pitcher may be used for an at-bat with a DH in play. But if the DH in the National League becomes a permanent reality, JoeB will likely be the last starting pitcher to knock one out of the park in the postseason. I also love Blanton’s mindset at the plate in that Game 4. “I just close my eyes and swing hard in case I make contact." Brilliant. 

Kerry Wood
Game: 2003 NLCS Game 7 off Mark Redman

This one was a doozy. Tensions were running high at Wrigley Field on this night. Not only was it the game after the “Bartman” incident. But the Cubs watched their 3-1 series lead over the Marlins collapse into a winner-take-all Game 7. The Cubs were trying to get to their first World Series since 1945. Wood did his best to give Chicago a chance when he knocked out a game-tying two-run homer the second inning, but it wasn’t enough. In keeping with the trend for that series (and for the 100+ years of their curse), the Cubs eventually blew a 5-3 lead to fall to the Marlins. 

Jake Arrieta 
Game: 2016 NLDS Game 3 off Madison Bumgarner

As cursed as the Cubs were in 2003, they were fortunate in 2016. Everything seemed to go their way, eventually shaking off that 108-year World Series drought. Current Phillie, Jake Arrieta came through in Game 3 with a three-run home run off one of the best postseason pitchers ever. Sure, the Giants won this game in extras, but the Cubs got the last laugh and championship rings in the end. Fun fact: Just days before Arrieta, pitcher Travis Wood belted a home run of his own in Game 2. When you’re hot, you’re hot and the Cubs certainly were in 2016. 

Dave McNally and Bob Gibson

I grouped these two players together because they have the great distinction of being the only two pitchers to hit home runs in the postseason twice. And they both did it in the World Series, in back to back years. McNally, pitching for the Orioles, belted a homer in Game 5 of the 1969 World Series and hit one again in the 1970 World Series in Game 3. Gibson hit his homers for the Cardinals in Game 7 of the 1967 World Series and then did it the following year, Game 4 of the 1968 World Series. And they both won one World Series and lost one. 

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The night Ryan Howard powered the Phillies to heaven's doorstep

The night Ryan Howard powered the Phillies to heaven's doorstep

The 2008 Phillies led the National League with 214 home runs.

Ryan Howard led the majors with 48 that season.

Both Howard and the Phillies played to their strength in Game 4 of the '08 World Series.

After three close games, and two one-run victories, the Phillies finally had an offensive bust-out in winning Game 4 by a score of 10-2 over the Tampa Bay Rays at Citizens Bank Park.

The win put the Phillies up three games to one in the series with Cole Hamels set to start what would be the Game 5 clincher.

Check out a full replay of Game 4 of the series Thursday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia. You will see a power display as the Phillies clubbed four home runs.

Three of the Phillies' homers came from likely sources. Howard slugged two of them and Jayson Werth added one.

The Phillies' fourth homer came off the bat off pitcher Joe Blanton, who tossed six innings of two-run ball for the win.

Blanton's solo homer into the left-field seats against Edwin Jackson in the fifth inning gave the Phils a 6-2 lead.

Blanton had joined the Phillies in a deadline trade from Oakland. Before his improbable home run, he had just one hit in 16 at-bats with the Phillies. He was the first pitcher to homer in a World Series game since Ken Holtzman of the 1974 Oakland A's.

While Blanton's home run was certainly important, it was an unexpected bonus. The right-hander was acquired to bolster the back end of the pitching rotation and he did a remarkable job in that role. Including the postseason, he made 16 starts for the '08 Phillies. The team won 12 of them.

In his prime, Howard was a guy who hit home runs in bunches. His two-homer performance in Game 4 came after he had hit one in Game 3. Howard drove in five of the Phillies' 10 runs in Game 4.

"It's the kind of stuff you dream about as a kid," he said afterward.

Howard's three-run homer in the fourth inning capped a nice at-bat against Tampa Bay starter Andy Sonnanstine. Howard took two curveballs then a fastball to run the count to 2-1. Sonnanstine's next pitch was another curveball. Howard waited, kept his weight back and swatted the pitch to his favorite spot in the ballpark, the left-field seats, as the Phils took a 5-1 lead. 

The Game 4 victory improved the Phillies to 54-33 overall at Citizens Bank Park on the season. They had finished the regular season with eight wins in the final 10 home games and were 6-0 at home in the postseason with one more game remaining at home in 2008 — Game 5 of the World Series.

With Howard and Blanton leading the way, the Phils were one victory away from taking it all and they were in the place they wanted to be with the guy they wanted on the mound. Hamels was already 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA in four starts in that postseason and his legend was about to grow.

But first, enjoy Game 4. Again.

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Matt Stairs swings hard, rescues 2008 Phillies with a heart-stopping blast

Matt Stairs swings hard, rescues 2008 Phillies with a heart-stopping blast

Finally, some drama in our showdown between the only two World Series championship teams in Phillies history.

And it comes compliments of a man who has done it before.

With the 2008 Phillies down to their last out and staring at a gaping series deficit, Matt Stairs came off the bench and clubbed a heart-stopping, pinch-hit grand slam in the top of the ninth inning to rescue his team from a two-run deficit and propel it to a 7-5 win over the 1980 club in a Game 4 thriller at Veterans Stadium.

The best-of-seven series, being played out via Strat-O-Matic computer simulation, based on real-life statistics from the 1980 and 2008 seasons, is now tied at two games apiece.

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Stairs’ dramatic Game 4 blast came against Tug McGraw, the ’80 club’s bullpen ace. McGraw enjoyed a brilliant season in 1980 — he had a 1.46 ERA in 57 games and finished fifth in the National League Cy Young voting — and images of him striking out Willie Wilson to clinch the franchise’s first World Series title that season will forever be etched in the minds of Phillies fans. But on this night, in this computer simulation, Tugger could not lock it down.

Both teams received solid efforts from their respective starters, Joe Blanton and Marty Bystrom. 

Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, the NL MVP in 1980, continued his strong series with a three-run homer in the first inning and his club took a 5-3 lead into the top of the ninth inning.

The ’08 team hit just .165 in the first three games of the series and it had just four hits through the first eight innings, but the bats began to rumble in the top of the ninth. Pat Burrell started the rally with a one-out single against Dickie Noles and Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz kept the game alive with a pair of two-out singles.

Needing one out to end the game and take a commanding two-game lead in the series, ’80 skipper Dallas Green waved McGraw in from the bullpen. Charlie Manuel, the 2008 team’s skipper, sent up Stairs to pinch-hit for Ryan Madson.

Stairs, of course, was a real-life hero in the Phillies’ run to the World Series in 2008 and his go-ahead, pinch-hit, two-run blast against the Dodgers’ Jonathan Broxton in Game  4 of the NL Championship Series that year will always be the stuff of legend, one of the biggest and most important homers in Phillies history.

Stairs hit 13 homers in 2008 but only one against a lefty. However, in this matchup, his lefty power stroke figured to be a good match for McGraw’s vaunted left-handed screwball.

BOOM!

Suddenly, the ’08 Phillies had the lead and a few moments later, sure-thing Brad Lidge was locking down a most improbable but highly dramatic win.

Once we saw the result of this Game 4 cross the computer screen, we just had to call Stairs and tell him what happened. 

“Oh, Lord,” he said. “That’s crazy.”

Stairs is living back home in Canada, in his native New Brunswick. He and his wife are volunteering their time delivering prescriptions to elderly residents during the coronavirus health crisis. They are due to become grandparents in a week or so.

We gave Stairs the lowdown on what we were doing, simulating a series between the 1980 and 2008 Phillies. 

“Those were two tremendous teams,” he said.

Yes, we told him, and fans are riveted.

Stairs said he knew all about the greatness of Tug McGraw and regretted that he never met the man.

“I wish I would have,” he said. “I heard so many great things about him. He was a great man, a character and a great competitor. He was a great pitcher.”

Stairs played along with the fantasy of it all.

His approach against McGraw?

“Swing hard, like you live,” he said.

Then he asked a question.

“Did Schmitty give me a high-five when I was rounding third base?” he asked.

Stairs hit 265 regular-season homers in his long career and 24 were pinch-hits. He twice hit pinch-hit grand slams, one for the Phillies in 2009.

Now he has a virtual grand slam in his book and it was a big one, perhaps a series saver for the 2008 Phillies.

We asked Stairs where it ranked in his personal memory bank.

“Just below Jon Broxton,” he said, being a good sport.

The series stays at Veterans Stadium for Game 5. The '80 Phillies need to put the difficult loss behind them quickly. Green used five different starting pitchers in the actual World Series against Kansas City in 1980 and that's what we're doing here. So, Larry Christenson gets the start against '08 ace Cole Hamels. The '08 club, hitting just .183 in four games, needs a good one because '80 Cy Young-winner Steve Carlton is set for Game 6 and he'll surely have a chip on his shoulder after taking the loss in Game 1.

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