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Francisco’s Pinch-Homer Pushes Phillies Past Cardinals to Playoff Lead

       
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Ben Francisco      Cole Hamels
Phillies outfielder Ben Francisco collected easily the biggest hit of his 5 year MLB career on Tuesday when he stepped up to pinch hit for starter lefthander Cole Hamels in the seventh inning.  With 2 out and 2 on base, on a single and an intentional walk, Francisco blistered St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia’s 2nd offering, a fastball up, 405 feet out to left centerfield for what was only his 2nd hit in 19 career at-bats in the postseason.  It couldn’t have come at a better time and it made Hamels the winning pitcher in game 3.  Until then, Hamels and Garcia had tossed six scoreless innings each in a classic duel of lefties.   Although the Cards scored a run in their seventh off of rookie Vance Worley, got 2 hits in the eighth off a shaky Brad Lidge and scored their 2nd run in the ninth with 2 out off of closer Ryan Madson, Madson held on getting 2nd baseman Ryan Theriot on a 6 pitch ground out to record his 1st save of the 2011 post-season as Francisco’s pinch-homer pushed the Phillies past the Cardinals by 3-2 and into the playoff lead.

In other playoff games, the Arizona Diamondbacks got into the win column as they battered Milwaukee starter  Shaun Marcom for 7 runs enroute to an 8-1 win.  Milwaukee leads the series by 2-1.   In the American League, the Texas Rangers edged the Tampa Bay Rays to win their playoff series by 3 games to 1.   Meanwhile, the  Yankees pounded Detroit for 6 runs in the eighth inning enroute to a 10-1 rout to deadlock their series at 2 games apiece.

The Cards had runners on in every inning of the game but could only plate 2 late-inning runs as Hamels shut out them out through six innings despite giving up 5 hits and issuing 3 walks.   Hamels struck out 8.

AP’s game recap for Yahoo sports provides highlights on Tuesday’s game:

So much for Francisco’s postseason futility and his lack of success against Jaime Garcia before his game-changer.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa’s decisions in the crucial seventh inning were ripe for second-guessing. He let Garcia bat in the sixth with two men on and then let Garcia keep pitching, and both moves backfired.

Garcia struck out on Hamels’ 117th pitch to end the sixth and keep it scoreless, and just a few minutes later served up a fat pitch that Francisco hammered over the left field wall and into the visitor’s bullpen.

“Well, it didn’t work, so that’s bad managing,” La Russa said. “I’m watching him pitch and was really pleased. I thought he was the guy to continue pitching and I knew the matchups were in our favor. It didn’t work.”

Even Garcia dissociated himself from the call to intentionally walk Carlos Ruiz before Francisco’s homer.

“That wasn’t my idea,” Garcia said. “That’s what (La Russa) wanted to do and that’s what we did.”

Second baseman Chase Utley was perfectly positioned to turn a double play to end the eighth on   Allen Craig’s sharply hit grounder with the bases loaded. Madson allowed Yadier Molina’s RBI single in the ninth before earning the save.

“That was a lot of fun, a lot of fun,” Madson said. “I wish I was a lot better but I guess I was good enough and that’s all that matters.”

After stranding 14 runners to frustrate a season-best crowd of 46,914, the Cardinals are in an yet another win-or-else predicament. They won the NL wild card on the final day of the season, erasing a 10 1/2 -game deficit on Aug. 25 to overtake the Braves.

“Somebody was going to be up 2-1 after this game anyway, so the series doesn’t end just because they’re up 2-1,”  Lance Berkman said.  “We’ll come back out tomorrow and see what happens.”

Several Cardinals said it was no coincidence that neither team scored the first six innings. Shadows during games with late-afternoon start times have bedeviled the hitters and Berkman joked that when he learned Game 3 would begin at 4:07 p.m. CDT, “I threw a tantrum, stomped my feet and stuff like that. Didn’t do any good.”

“I didn’t know it was a homer, I knew I hit it good,” Francisco said. “I saw it bounce over the fence and just pure excitement, pure joy.”

Hamels struck out eight in six scoreless innings and reversed a disturbing trend after allowing nine homers in September, with a pair of doubles by [Albert] Pujols the only extra-base hits. He’s a franchise-best 7-4 in the postseason with a 3.09 ERA.

Pujols and Ryan Theriot had four hits apiece for St. Louis with Pujols getting his 22nd career multihit game in the postseason. The Cardinals came up empty despite three hits in the eighth, including a pinch-hit single by Matt Holliday in only his second appearance of the series.

For all of Monday’s and Tuesday’s playoff results in both leagues, click here and here.

Roy Oswalt hopes to lead the Phillies to a series win in Wednesday’s game 4, thus avoiding a return home to Philly for a decisive 5th game in Citizen’s Bank Park.  He opposes Edwin Jackson who lost and was pounded in his only career outing against the Phils.  Oswalt was 1-1 vs the Cards this season, most recently tossing seven innings of 5 hit shutout ball on September 17th as the Phils clinched the division title with a 9-2 win.

For all of Wednesday’s scheduled playoff games throughout MLB, click here.

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