The Dodgers are still in the postseason thanks in part to the renaissance of Joe Blanton
The Dodgers needed to win Game 4 of the NLDS to keep their playoff hopes alive. Those hopes were starting to look shaky in the seventh, though. When Clayton Kershaw exited the game with two outs, the Dodgers held a 5-2 lead, but the bases were loaded. Pedro Baez and Luis Avilan entered the game and, in short order, they exited with the score now tied.
With a runner at third and those same two outs still on the board, the 35-year-old Blanton came on to try and preserve the game. The former starter proceeded to strike out Anthony Rendon on a slider that darted off the plate. Just watch how Blanton takes that little extra second before getting off the mound, too. That's a power stance:
Blanton would pitch the next inning, too, shutting down the Nationals in order. Thanks to a Chase Utley single in the eighth, the Dodgers won the game, 6-5, and Blanton was gifited with the 'W.'
It's the same thing he had done all series. He entered in Game 1 to pitch 2/3 shutout innings. With the Dodgers bullpen needing to soak up some serious innings in Game 3 after Kenta Maeda exited after only three innings, Blanton tossed 1 2/3 scoreless to keep the Dodgers in the game.
This is not what you would would have expected just a few years ago. In fact, Blanton even being on a Major League team in anything other than a coaching role seemed impossible. In 2013, Blanton posted a 6.04 ERA with the Angels, giving up an astonishing 180 hits and 29 HR in 132 2/3 IP.
The goateed hurler then retired, sitting out nearly all of the 2014 season. Given that he was always more of a back-of-the-rotation innings-eater even at the height of his career, most assumed his career was over. The next time you'd see him in a TV broadcast would likely be as the answer to a trivia question.
But then he came back. After working out in the offseason with Zach Duke -- more as a favor than anything else as Duke needed a throwing partner -- Blanton signed with the Royals on a Minor League deal in 2015. GM Dayton Moore said at the time, "You can never have too much depth." Those aren't the words of a man expecting to have found gold in those hills, but the words of a man paying a friend a favor or just looking for someone to soak up innings in Triple-A.
Instead, Blanton would be in the Majors by May and, as if he had entered those cocoons in "Cocoon," was a brand new pitcher. Unlike other starters who were sent to the 'pen, Blanton found success not by suddenly throwing mid-90s fastballs, but by throwing endless sliders and lowering his armslot:
He also presumably found success by staring at batters until they were too uncomfortable to hit:
It makes sense that his comeback was engineered first with the Royals, who turned Wade Davis into the most dominant reliever in the game, and then the Pirates, who routinely blow fairy dust on pitchers like Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez and turn them into gods.
Signing with the Dodgers before this season, Blanton somehow doubled down on his improvements. He cut his 91-mph fastball usage to just 30 percent, something almost no relievers do. And only six pitchers threw their slider more.
It worked. Batters hit just .194 and Blanton had the lowest ERA in the Dodgers bullpen this side of Kenley Jansen. He also led the relief staff in appearances (75), innings (80) and his 16 four-plus out appearances also led the team.
He would go with the dangerous barehand when needed:
He would wriggle out jams:
Basically, when the Dodgers needed a pitcher, Blanton was there.
On Tuesday, the Dodgers needed Blanton to keep their postseason hopes alive. And like the hero that he's been all season, he delivered again.
Tune in to see if Joe Blanton can help the Dodgers one more time in the winner-take-all NLDS Game 5 on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on FS1.