Joe Blanton Officially Comes Off The Rails

Joe Blanton Officially Comes Off The Rails

Not gonna lie, I was a little surprised to see Joe Blanton on my television as the bottom of the sixth got underway. Maybe it's because he had only thrown 81 pitches up to that point, or maybe Charlie Manuel just wanted to give him a chance to pitch out of a slump -- perhaps both. Whatever the reasons, New York tacked on two more runs before Blanton ever recorded an out, and the Phillies finally ran out of fight, falling to the Mets by a score of 6-3.

The game itself was just one of 162, but Heavy B's demise is still ongoing. Since throwing a complete-game shutout against the Braves on May 3, Blanton has been totally unreliable, especially in his last three appearances. The big righty has surrendered 19 earned runs in 13.2 innings, which equates to an ERA over 10.00, and therefore was not deemed worth calculating. However, just four weeks ago it was 2.83 for the season -- now it's climbed to 5.05.

While Blanton was not counted on for the bulk of last season, or during the 2010 playoffs for that matter, his absence as a credible arm in the rotation could become problematic very fast in 2012. Even though Vance Worley is expected back from the disabled list soon, the staff is already stretched to the limit whenever Kyle Kendrick enters the mix. If he or Blanton aren't cutting it, or anybody else should require time off, I'm not entirely sure who is next in line.

That he is becoming increasingly useless carries additional implications, namely his becoming less attractive to other teams. Not that GMs were lining up around the block to swap for Blanton's services, but when on his game, he can help a ball club win a World Series the way he did here in '08. The Phillies weren't going to uncover the Holy Grail or anything, but at this rate, I'm not sure how many more times they can afford to trot him out there, let alone how they go about finding takers.

Maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves a little bit there, but Blanton's regression is disappointing from any angle. Whether you're stuck with him for the remainder of this season or not, the Phils can't keep tossing a starter who allows six or seven runs per outing. Who's built for that?

It's actually quite gripping the way every little cog in the wheel matters so much more in what has all the makings of being a hotly contested NL East -- or Wild Card chase should that be the case -- all summer long. Blanton missed the majority of 2011, but it was barely worth mentioning. Now the Phillies almost require him to step up, and he's shrinking.

Best of NBA: Dwyane Wade hits dagger 3-pointer in Bulls debut

Best of NBA: Dwyane Wade hits dagger 3-pointer in Bulls debut

CHICAGO -- Dwyane Wade scored 22 points in a triumphant Chicago debut, Jimmy Butler had 24 and the Bulls won their season opener, beating the Boston Celtics 105-99 on Thursday night.

Wade nailed a 3 from the corner in the final minute to make it a five-point game. Taj Gibson added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and the new-look Bulls got off to a winning start after missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 25 points. Avery Bradley had 16, and Jae Crowder 14 points, but the Celtics came up short after opening with a win over Brooklyn the previous night.

The Bulls remade their roster in the offseason, jettisoning one hometown superstar and welcoming another when they traded Derrick Rose to New York and signed Wade to a two-year deal worth about $47 million in a move that stunned Miami.

The three-time NBA champion and 12-time All-Star is off to a good start with the Bulls after 13 seasons with the Heat.

Wade hit 4 of 6 3-pointers in this game after making just seven all of last season (see full recap).

New-look Hawks roll past Wizards
ATLANTA -- Dwight Howard dominated the boards in his Atlanta debut, Paul Millsap scored 28 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. ignited the new-look Hawks to a 114-99 victory over the Washington Wizards in their season opener Thursday night.

Howard grabbed 19 rebounds to go along with 11 points, just what the Hawks expected from their new center, and it certainly wasn't unusual for three-time All-Star Millsap to lead the way in scoring.

But Hardaway's performance was totally unexpected given the way he struggled in his first season with the Hawks, when he was largely confined to the bench and even forced to spend time in the D-League.

He scored 21 points, matching his high in an Atlanta uniform, and broke open a close game with back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth. The Hawks, who led only 81-80 heading to the final period, outscored the Wizards 33-19 over the final 12 minutes (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty scored the tiebreaking goal in Montreal's three-goal third period as the Canadiens beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 Thursday night for their sixth straight win.

Alex Galchenyuk and Torrey Mitchell also scored to help Montreal improve to 7-0-1. Carey Price made 29 saves to win for the fourth time in four starts this season.

Alex Killorn scored the lone goal for the Lightning, who lost against an Eastern-Conference opponent for the first time this season. Ben Bishop stopped 23 shots.

With the scored tied 1-1, Pacioretty got the go-ahead goal at 10:23 by beating Bishop glove-side. Blown coverage by the Lightning left the Canadiens' captain all alone on the edge of the face-off circle, and Bishop couldn't see the shot with Andrew Shaw posted firmly in front of goal.

Montreal remains the only NHL team still undefeated in regulation (see full recap).

Crosby's late goal gives Penguins win over Islanders
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel also scored -- each getting his third of the season -- to help the Penguins win for the third time in four games and improve to 5-0-1 at home.

Crosby, playing for the second straight game after missing the first six with a concussion, scored with 2:25 left as he caught a pass from Scott Wilson at the top of the crease and quickly turned to his forehand to put the puck behind Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Kessel added a power-play goal to cap the scoring 32 seconds later.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 35 shots while starting for the eighth straight game.

Travis Hamonic and Shane Prince scored for the Islanders, and Halak finished with 31 saves (see full recap).

Streaking Red Wings win marathon shootout vs. Blues
ST. LOUIS -- Henrik Zetterberg scored in the eighth round of a shootout to give the Detroit Red Wings a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Zetterberg's goal gave the Red Wings a six-game winning streak.

In the shootout, St. Louis' first shooter, Alexander Steen, scored but then Vladimir Tarasenko, Kevin Shattenkirk, David Perron, Nail Yakupoc, Robby Fabbri, Patrick Burgland and Dmitrjij Jaskin all came up short.

Gustav Nyquist scored on Detroit's second attempt but Frans Nielsen, Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheehan and Darren Helm all missed.

St. Louis had the better chances in overtime. Center Jaden Schwartz missed a wide-open net early in the extra session. Jori Lehtera was stopped on a breakaway midway through the period by Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek (see full recap).