Inside the Phillies: Cards folded after playing by the book

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Phillies manager Charlie Manuel made all the right calls in Game 3. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

ST. LOUIS - The Game 3 moment forever entrenched in the minds of Phillies fans will be Ben Francisco's pinch-hit blast in the seventh that just cleared the left-field fence for a three-run home run.

What will be forgotten are many of the key moments that took place before and after Francisco's home run. It provided all the runs needed for the Phillies to pull out a 3-2 victory and take a 2-1 advantage in this best-of-five National League division series.

Start with the sequence of events that immediately preceded Francisco's first home run since May 25.

Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia sailed through the first six innings, allowing just three hits and four baserunners. In the seventh, Shane Victorino became the first Phillies batter to lead off with a hit when he singled to center field.

"I just wanted to get on," Victorino said. "I got the count to 3-2 and I was able to get a pitch that I could drive up the middle."

With a runner like Victorino on base late in a scoreless game, the immediate thought was he'd try to steal. Turned out he did not have to because Garcia's first-pitch fastball to John Mayberry Jr. slid under Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina for a passed ball.

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That would become huge later.

Victorino then nearly became the game's goat when rightfielder Lance Berkman caught a Mayberry line drive and nearly doubled up the Phillies' centerfielder at second base.

Imagine the conversations that would have triggered?

After Placido Polanco grounded out to third for the second out of the inning, the game's most important decisions followed.

Charlie Manuel decided he was going to send up Francisco as a pinch-hitter for Cole Hamels, who had provided the Phillies with six shutout innings. It was not a move the manager was hiding. As Carlos Ruiz walked to the plate, Francisco was standing on the dugout steps with a bat in his hand.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa ordered an intentional walk to Ruiz and left Garcia in to face Francisco.

"Well, if you follow our club with Ruiz over the years, he's gotten as many big hits as the guys in the middle of that lineup," La Russa said. "He just terrorizes us and he's already hit two balls hard."

Ruiz, for the record, has a career .310 average with eight doubles and two home runs against the Cardinals. He had singled in the third inning to end an 0 for 8 streak in the first two games, then grounded sharply to shortstop in the fifth.

"Francisco has had a tough time with Jaime, so it really wasn't a tough call," La Russa said.

Again, the Cardinals manager had a good answer. Francisco was 1 for 9 with a single off Garcia and he had not hit a home run since May. In fact, he had only three RBIs since the Fourth of July.

But on one swing, it all changed. After taking the first pitch from Garcia for a ball, Francisco launched a 1-0 fastball over the wall.

"I sent him up there to hit because I like him on the lefty," Manuel said. "I might have even let him hit on a righty. I don't know, it depends who they put in, because he can hit a fastball, but I definitely liked him on the lefty. He's a good hitter."

Many people might have argued that analysis before Tuesday night because Francisco was the man who was given the first chance to win the right-field job this season and couldn't do it. Now, he's another unlikely postseason hero.

"I got to play a little bit in September and kind of started feeling pretty good," Francisco said. "I had a lot of confidence going into the postseason."

Francisco batted .345 in September and now he has a home run he'll never forget.

Mayberry's marvelous play.

Ryan Madson's 95 m.p.h. fastball to Allen Craig induced the inning-ending double play that got the Phillies out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the eighth. But Mayberry made an underappreciated play just before that.

Making the first postseason start of his career against the lefty Garcia, Mayberry had to deal with a sinking liner off the bat of Rafael Furcal with one out and runners at first and second. Initially, it appeared as if Mayberry might try to make the catch, but then he backed off and handled the ball on a tricky hop.

If that ball gets by Mayberry and rolls to the wall, the game probably would have been tied before Madson relieved Brad Lidge.

"Sometimes a play like that goes unnoticed in a game like this," Victorino said. "The thing I noticed about this entire game was how well it was played."

They got it right.

After a difficult night behind the plate in Sunday's Game 2 at Citizens Bank Park, Jerry Meals had the seemingly harmless duty of working the right-field line in Game 3. Meals, however, still ended up making the game's most controversial call in the top of the ninth when Cardinals centerfielder Skip Schumaker made a great diving catch on a line drive off Ruiz's bat.

Meals initially ruled no catch and instead of returning to first, Placido Polanco headed for second. After Schumaker vehemently protested, the umpires huddled and ruled Schumaker made the catch and that Polanco should return to first base. It was the right call.

Also kudos should go to crew chief Jerry Layne, who did an outstanding job calling balls and strikes. 

Hamels hurts himself.

Bench coach Pete Mackanin said Hamels won the Phillies' hitting challenge against the other starting pitchers during the regular season partly because he had more quality at-bats than any of his competitors.

Hamels' first at-bat of the postseason, however, was far from quality. He was ordered to lay down a sacrifice bunt with Ruiz at first and one out. Instead, he popped up a first-pitch cut fastball from Garcia and his failure cost the Phillies a third-inning run because Jimmy Rollins followed with a single to center field.

That, however, was the only thing Hamels did not do well in this pivotal game. Although it took him 117 pitches to complete six scoreless innings, he was still brilliant. The Cardinals were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and 0 for 8 with four strikeouts when runners were on base.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.