The Washington Times - October 27, 2008, 12:00AM

By JAY LeBLANC
October 27, 2008

Phillies 10, Rays 2
Phillies best-of-seven series 3-1

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Ryan Howard busted out of his postseason power slump with two homers and five RBI and Joe Blanton tossed six strong innings and added a solo shot of his own as the Phillies ravaged the visiting Rays 10-2 in Game 4 of the World Series. Jimmy Rollins stroked three hits and scored three times for the Phils, who took a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. They’ll send ace Cole Hamels to the mound tonight as they try to capture the franchise’s first championship since 1980.

Rays leadoff hitter Akinori Iwamura gave the Citizens Bank Park crowd an early scare by driving a Blanton offering deep to left, but Pat Burrell caught it up against the wall and Blanton recovered to retire Tampa Bay in order.

The Phillies got on the board in the bottom of the frame. Rollins led off with a double and advanced to third on a Jayson Werth sac fly. After Andy Sonnanstine issued a walk to Chase Utley, Howard hit a grounder back to the mound. Sonnanstine gloved it and ran toward Rollins, who was caught between third and home. Sonnanstine flipped the ball to third baseman Evan Longoria, who applied the tag to Rollins’ backside as he scampered back to third. Third base umpire Tim Welke missed the call and declared Rollins safe, loading the bases with one out. Sonnanstine then walked Pat Burrell to force Rollins home and give Philly a 1-0 lead. The next batter, Shane Victorino, grounded the ball back to Sonnanstine, who flipped it home for the force out. The Rays righty then escaped further damage by getting Pedro Feliz to fly out to center for the third out.

Philadelphia pushed another run across in the home half of the third. Utley reached on an error by second baseman Iwamura and moved to third on Howard’s single to right. It looked as if Sonnanstine would be able to extract himself from the jam after he got both Burrell and Victorino to pop out to shortstop, but Feliz followed with a single to left that scored Utley and put the Phillies up 2-0. Carlos Ruiz then reached on an infield single to load the bases, but Sonnanstine got Blanton to foul out to first to end the threat.

Meanwhile Blanton was cruising along, allowing just two hits over the first three innings. He got off to a good start in the fourth by whiffing Carlos Pena and getting Longoria to ground out, but then served up a gopher ball that Carl Crawford deposited into the seats in right to cut Philadelphia’s lead to 2-1.

Philly reclaimed any momentum Crawford’s blast had given the Rays in the bottom of the fourth. An error by Iwamura allowed the Phillies leadoff man - in this case, Rollins - to reach for the second consecutive inning. Werth followed with a walk, but Sonnanstine bounced back to strike out Utley for the first out. Howard then stepped to the plate and launched a three-run opposite-field bomb that give the Phillies some breathing room at 5-1. Sonnanstine recovered to retire the next two Phillies hitters, Burrell and Victorino, but the damage was done.

Tampa Bay got one back in the top of the fifth when Eric Hinske pinch-hit for Sonnanstine and slugged a solo shot well over the center field wall. It was the first at bat of the postseason for Hinske, who was added to the Rays roster earlier in the day because of an injury to Cliff Floyd.

The Phils answered in most unlikely fashion in the bottom of the frame when Blanton went deep to left off Rays reliever Edwin Jackson to make it 6-2 Philadelphia. Blanton’s blast was the first by a pitcher in the World Series since Ken Holtzman homered for the A’s in the 1974 World Series.

Blanton departed after issuing a walk to Ben Zobrist to open the seventh, turning the game over to the Phillies bullpen - which has been outstanding throughout the postseason - with a four-run lead. Chad Durbin came on and got Jason Bartlett to fly out to center and gave way to lefty Scott Eyre after allowing a single to pinch-hitter Willy Aybar. Eyre got Iwamura on a line-out to left, and Ryan Madson then fanned B.J. Upton to end the inning. Madson remained in the game and retired the Rays in order in the eighth.

The Phillies added some insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth. Rollins doubled high off the right-field wall with one out and Werth followed with a two-run shot off Rays reliever Dan Wheeler to left to make it 8-2. Lefty Trever Miller came on and issued a four-pitch walk to Utley before serving up an absolute bomb to Howard that put the Phillies up 10-2.

With the Phils up by eight, manager Charlie Manuel opted for J.C. Romero instead of Brad Lidge in the ninth. After Dioner Navarro reached on a throwing error by Romero to open the inning, the left-hander set down the next three Rays hitter in order to close out the victory.

Hamels, who is 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA this October, will take the hill at Citizens Bank Park tonight as Philly goes for its first title in 28 years. The Rays enter tonight’s game with the comparatively modest goal of pushing the series back to Tropicana Field, where they went 57-24 during the regular season. Manager Joe Maddon will hand the ball to lefty Scott Kazmir, who allowed three runs on six hits and four walks in six innings to take the loss in Game 1. First pitch is scheduled for 8:29 p.m. EST.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and mayor of the National Pastime web community. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.