All eyes in the baseball world will be on Citizens Bank Park on Thursday night, as the Philadelphia Phillies look to close out the Atlanta Braves in their National League Division Series. Prior to Ranger Suarez's opening delivery to Ronald Acuña Jr., however, a familiar face will be tossing out the ceremonial first pitch: former Phillies hurler Joe Blanton.
Yes, "Joe the Lumber" of 2008 World Series fame. Nowadays, he mostly keeps busy making wine in California after a successful MLB career that ran from 2004 through 2017. But no amount of time or distance will ever cause Phillies fans to forget the night of Oct. 26, 2008 when Blanton seemingly iced the World Series by going deep off of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Edwin Jackson.
That dinger gave the Phils a 6-2 advantage in a game they'd go on to win in a 10-2 laugher (sounds familiar) before clinching the series the following game after about 48 straight hours of rain.
The home run itself actually did not surprise me personally, because some months earlier I had gone to see the Phillies play the Cubs at Wrigley Field and was there early enough for batting practice. The next day's pitcher would hit in one of the BP groups, and Blanton was in there taking some swings. He flew out to the warning track in left-center multiple times, and my friend and I agreed that he actually looked like he could get a hold of one at some point. Point taken a few months later.
Blanton's home run was the 15th time that a pitcher had homered in World Series history, and it is almost certainly the last time we'll see it thanks to the universal DH. It was also his only postseason hit ever (1-for-14) and the only extra-base hit of any kind in his MLB career. Great timing.
It was an amazing moment for a guy who had come to the Phillies in a very unheralded trade with Oakland a couple of weeks before the trade deadline that season. Blanton would ultimately be traded to the Dodgers during the 2012 season before bouncing around everywhere over the next five years: Angels, Royals, Pirates, Dodgers again and Nationals. He is an excellent answer for your Immaculate Grid (although not as good as Jackson, the guy he homered off of, who pitched for 14 teams).
I personally feel that, although I appreciated his contribution to the 2008 World Series effort, the selection of Blanton to throw out the first pitch is a bit underwhelming here. But I suppose that "bigger" names will be given the honor if and when the Phillies advance deeper in the playoffs. You can't shoot off all your big guns this early. Here's hoping that Blanton's first pitch before Game 4 brings the 2023 Phillies as much good fortune as his arm and bat did for the 2008 club.