PHILADELPHIA — A lost year has reinvigorated Joe Blanton.
The Phillies right-hander pitched seven-plus strong innings and Placido Polanco homered for his 2,000th career hit to lead Philadelphia to a 5-1 win over the Houston Astros on Monday night.
Blanton (4-3) allowed six hits and one run, struck out seven and walked one while pitching in a steady light rain throughout. He continued his solid recent stretch, improving to 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA in his last four starts.
“He got there pretty easy,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said of Blanton reaching the eighth. “He’s pitching real good.”
It’s been quite a turnaround for Blanton, who missed most of last season with an elbow injury that limited him to 41 1/3 innings and eight starts. But the time away proved beneficial — both physically and mentally.
“Physically, I feel better than I have in a couple years and mechanically, too,” he said. “I’m having fun with the game again. You feel like a kid again after missing so much time. It’s nice to be out there and contribute to help us win games.”
Blanton got a lift from a Philadelphia offense that has been subpar for much of the season, but has come on of late.
Freddy Galvis had three hits and drove in a pair of runs and Carlos Ruiz went 2 for 4 with an RBI for the Phillies, who have won three of four since manager Manuel’s much-publicized team meeting last Wednesday.
The highlight, of course, was Polanco’s eighth-inning homer that allowed him to reach the milestone.
“It means a lot, means I’ve been around for a while,” Polanco said. “However, I’m not thinking about that. I’m trying to win games and hopefully a championship.”
Said Blanton: “It shows you’re good and good for a long time. That’s impressive to see.”
Marwin Gonzalez, pinch hitting to lead off the eighth, hit his first major league homer for the Astros’ lone run.
Carlos Lee went 3 for 4 for Houston, which has lost six of eight after a season-best five-game winning streak. Lee, who recorded all three hits off Blanton, now is 9 for 18 lifetime against the Philadelphia pitcher.
The Phillies took a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning on Galvis’ RBI single to right. Philadelphia was helped in the frame by shortstop Jed Lowrie’s fielding error on John Mayberry Jr.’s grounder up the middle, making the run unearned for Houston right-hander Lucas Harrell (2-3). The Phillies could have added to the advantage, but stranded the bases loaded on Juan Pierre’s groundout.
Philadelphia went up 3-0 in the sixth on Ruiz’s single to left that scored Shane Victorino, who opened the frame with a triple, and Galvis’ opposite-field single. Galvis’ hit came off Wilton Lopez, who relieved Harrell.
Rather than walk Galvis and load the bases for Blanton, Astros manager Brad Mills elected to pitch to Galvis. And the rookie who is filling in for injured All-Star Chase Utley (knee) at second base, made Houston pay with an opposite-field liner that scored Polanco.
Galvis, batting .231, now has 15 RBIs on just 25 hits.
Harrell left after allowing three runs — two earned — on five hits in 5 2/3 innings, with three strikeouts and two walks. He was noticeably upset when he left the field and in the dugout.
“I was pretty frustrated,” Harrell said. “That’s the best I’ve thrown the ball all year, hands down. I had good location and thought everything was really working tonight. I’m out there competing and the guys are competing too. I had some frustration built up.”
The Astros nearly got on the board twice against Blanton, with Lee, in the fourth, and Brian Bogusevic, in the sixth, just missing homers down the left-field line.
Altuve followed Gonzalez’s homer in the eighth with a single to left, ending the night for Blanton. But Philadelphia relievers Antonio Bastardo and Chad Qualls combined on a scoreless eighth, and Jonathan Papelbon tossed a scoreless ninth, striking out the side, in a non-save situation.
Polanco reached his milestone with a two-run homer, his first off the year, to left field off David Carpenter in the eighth.
“I knew I hit it pretty good and hoped it dropped somewhere,” Polanco said.
Notes: Opponents have one hit in their last 23 at-bats against Bastardo. … The Phillies’ crowd of 43,824 was the 221st regular-season sellout and 237th straight including postseason play. … The Astros dropped to 32-21 against the Phillies since 2004, still the only NL club with a winning record against Philadelphia during that span. Houston also is the lone NL club with a winning record at Citizens Bank Park, going 16-11 against Philadelphia since the park opened in 2004.