PHILADELPHIA — Ryan Howard knows this place will go nuts with one more win.
“It will be absolute bedlam,” he said. “It will be one of the craziest places on earth. It’s kind of scary to imagine.”
Then again, who would’ve guessed Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton would shut his eyes, take a huge swing and sock a ball into the seats.
Blanton became the first pitcher in 34 years to homer in the World Series, Howard drove in five runs with two homers and Philadelphia romped over the Tampa Bay Rays 10-2 on Sunday night to move within one win of its first title since 1980.
The team of 10,000 losses could give title-starved Philadelphia its first champion in any of the four big sports since the NBA’s 76ers in 1983.
“A championship is the only way to fully reverse that thought of how the Phillies are portrayed,” said Jimmy Rollins, who sparked the Phillies with three hits and three runs. “If we get that game, I believe we will be happy, the city will be happy, there will be a big parade,”
Jayson Werth also homered as the Phillies took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Series and thrilled their frustrated, long-suffering fans.
“I didn’t really buy into the whole thing about the city and the drought and all that kind of stuff,” Howard said.
Cole Hamels will try to close out the Phillies’ second Series title on Monday night against Scott Kazmir in a rematch of Game 1 starters. Hamels (4-0) is trying to become the first pitcher to win five postseason starts in one year.
Of the 42 teams to take 3-1 World Series leads, 36 have gone on to win the crown. After splitting the first two games in Florida, the Phillies improved to 6-0 at Citizens Bank Park this postseason. That includes a wacky, rain-delayed 5-4 win in Game 3 that ended at 1:47 a.m. Sunday.
“Cole looks for these moments. I call him Hollywood, because when the lights are on, that’s when he’s at his best,” Rollins said. “And tomorrow night, the lights will definitely be on.”
Rollins made a great escape from a rundown in the first inning — perhaps with the help of an umpire’s blown call — energizing the Phillies and rattling the Rays.
A day after hitting his first homer of the Series, Howard connected twice. The major league leader in homers and RBIs hit a three-run drive off Andy Sonnanstine that made it 5-1 in the fourth and sent screams through a whooped-up crowd of 45,903. Howard added a long, two-run shot against Dan Wheeler in the eighth.
Blanton, with a Greg Luzinski body type that’s a throwback to an era of pudgy pitchers, gave up four hits — including solo homers to Carl Crawford and pinch-hitter Eric Hinske — struck out seven and walked two in six-plus innings.
Just 2-for-33 (.061) with one RBI in his career to that point, Blanton homered in the fifth off Edwin Jackson. It was just the 15th home run by a pitcher in the Series, and the first since Oakland’s Ken Holtzman in 1974. No NL pitcher had homered since the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson in 1968.
“I just close my eyes and swing hard in case I make contact,” said Blanton, who thought he hadn’t homered since high school. “Better to be lucky than good, I guess.”
Even when Jason Bartlett’s grounder up the middle caromed off him in the fifth, the ball went straight to third, where Pedro Feliz threw to first for the out. The pinball wizard defense was fitting — The Who gave a concert across the street at the Wachovia Center on Sunday night.
Rays manager Joe Maddon came out in midgame to complain to plate umpire Tom Hallion about a spot on Blanton’s cap.
“It was rather dark,” Maddon said. “I was concerned about that early on.”
Blanton pleaded not guilty.
“They rub the balls up with whatever they rub them up with, and you rub it up and get it on your hand,” he said. “It’s nothing sticky. Anybody can go touch it. It’s just basically just dirt from the ball.”
The middle of Tampa Bay’s lineup kept fizzling as if it had been zapped by a Ray-gun, with No. 3 hitter Carlos Pena and cleanup man Evan Longoria combining to go an A-Rod-like 0-for-29 with 15 strikeouts in the Series.
“My plan is to just keep swinging,” Longoria said.
Second baseman Akinori Iwamura made two errors that led to unearned runs, and a frustrated Longoria — again taunted by chants of “E-va! E-va!” in reference to the actress of the same last name — struck out three times and swiped a hand through the air when a call went against him at third base.
“We know what’s going on, we’re just not reacting very well yet, but there is time,” Maddon said. “We have to not give them four outs in an inning. We have to have better at-bats.”
Had the Phillies come up with more timely hits — a familiar story — Philadelphia could have blown open the game earlier. The Phillies were 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position and are 6-for-47 in the Series.
Sonnanstine struggled with his offspeed stuff and needed 89 pitches to get through four innings. He allowed five runs — three earned — six hits and three walks.
After Rollins escaped the rundown in the first — umpire Tim Welke signaled safe, although Longoria appeared to swipe him on the backside — Pat Burrell walked on five pitches, forcing home the first run. Before that, Sonnanstine had never walked a batter in 18 career situations with bases loaded. Chase Utley reached leading off the second when Iwamura allowed his leadoff grounder to bounce off him for an error and scored with two outs on a single by Feliz, just the third hit for the Phillies in 40 at-bats with runners in scoring position in the Series.
Crawford’s homer cut it to 2-1 in the fourth, but Rollins reached on another error by Iwamura starting the bottom half. Werth walked and, one out later, Howard drove a 72 mph pitch into the lower deck in left for a 5-1 lead. Howard had been 0-for-6 with five strikeouts in the much-focused on runners in scoring position stat.
Tampa Bay never recovered.
“It’s win or go home. It’s simple, and no one in here wants to go home and wonder what if,” Cliff Floyd said.