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Phillies one win from NLCS as Cole Hamels and Ben Francisco sink the Cardinals

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Philadelphia Phillies logo: http://www.wondergy.com/art/logos/phillies_logo.gifI told you guys this series would be a nail biter!
 
Every pitch and every hit could have been a potential game changer. The St. Louis Cardinals fought until the very last out, but in the end, it was the Phillies who survived this intense battle. The 3-2 victory makes the Phightins just one win away from their fourth consecutive NLCS appearance.

This game brought back memories of Game 3 of the 2009 NLDS against the Rockies. As you might recall, the Phillies narrowly escaped from the jaws of death to win that game as well.

Without a doubt, this game was THE biggest challenge presented to this Phillies team so far in 2011, and they got by with the skin of their teeth. But a win is a win, and we’re going to break it down:

What went right:

Cole Hamels- Hamels had a rough September, and in the back of some people’s minds, they were wondering which Cole was going to show up. As luck would have it, the good Cole Hamels came out firing, and despite working several 3-2 counts to the Cardinals’ lineup, he got the important outs when he needed them, going six innings and striking out eight.  As long as he keeps his pitch count down, this is encouraging for the Phillies, and bad news for the rest of baseball.

Ben Francisco- Yes, I’ll admit, I did say I wasn’t expecting or looking for anything out of Francisco in the playoffs. Here is the link to prove it. I also wondered why Francisco pinch hit in Game 2 instead of John Mayberry. But with one swing of the bat off Cardinals' starter Jaime (Steve Carlton) Garcia, Francisco, who hadn’t homered in 109 at bats, gave this now-anemic offense a lift. Whether this wakes up the offense or not remains to be seen. They would turn out to be the only runs the Phillies would score.

Last year against the Giants, that ball doesn’t go over that fence. And Francisco, who just became the new Matt Stairs of the 2011 playoffs, will never have to buy a dinner in this town again if the Phillies win the World Series.Cardinals logo: www.sullybaseball.blogspot.com

Lucky bounces: The Phillies got several on Tuesday. First off, Tony LaRussa followed the blueprints on how to beat the Phillies: hold their bats in check while getting their starter out of the game, and he still lost.

Allen Craig hit an absolute rocket to Chase Utley, who turned an unassisted, inning ending double play. For a guy whose defense is sometimes suspect, Utley made one of the biggest plays of his career. If he botches that ball, the Cardinals tie the game, or I could be writing about an entirely different outcome. The Cardinals wasted several opportunities to blow this game open in the later innings. Luckily for the Phils, they didn’t cash in.

What went wrong

The Phillies offense (minus Ben Francisco)- Every baseball commentator along with Charlie Manuel preached patience against Garcia. So what happened? Jimmy Rollins fouled out on the second pitch of the game, and that should tell you all there is to know. Oh and just one more thing: Going into the sixth inning, Hamels had thrown close to 30 less pitches than Garcia, who did not reach a two-ball count until the fourth inning.

Seriously guys? We aren’t playing MLB 2K11 here. Hamels is used to pitching with no offense, and that’s exactly what he got tonight, until Francisco hit the shot that rocked the city of St. Louis. Although the shadows may have had something to do with the lack of offense on both teams, the shadows didn’t stop the Cardinals from taking pitches. The 2010 NLCS was being replayed in my head as the innings went by, and chances are they were for you too. Not good.

The bullpen: Seven hits, a walk and two runs in three innings between Vance Worley, Antonio Bastardo, Brad Lidge, and Ryan Madson. I know a win is a win, but how in the world are the Phillies going to advance deep into the playoffs with performances like these? Yep. A nail biter indeed.

Looking ahead:

This series has gone exactly how I thought it would- from the Phillies’ dramatic comeback in Game 1, to the Cardinals’ comeback in Game 2, to the wild circus that was Game 3. I won’t use the word again, but you can’t deny it, and you would think there’s no reason Game 4 would be any different. Especially with injured Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday coming off the bench again. 

Roy Oswalt will take the mound for the Phillies Wednesday, and the last time Oswalt was in St. Louis pitching in a possible clincher, he won Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS and walked away with the MVP award. Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson, who is best known around these parts for giving up Joe Blanton’s World Series home run, faced the Phillies for a few innings last season. It would be really nice for the Phillies to actually make Jackson throw pitches. And who knows? Maybe Jackson is just the kind of pitcher to get the Phillies’ bats out of their collective slump.

If things go wrong and the Phillies can’t close the deal, they’ll  have Roy Halladay ready for a possible Game 5 in Philadelphia, but the Cardinals have a well rested Chris Carpenter on the other side. Let’s hope the Phightins just pull it out Wednesday, and that the next time they play at Citizens Bank Park is for Game 1 of the NLCS.

We want to hear from YOU during the playoffs. Send your videos of the playoffs to videos@philly2philly.com  and ALL your playoffs pics to info@philly2philly.com!! It doesn’t matter where they’re from, we just want them!!

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Thumbnail: New York Times