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Cardinals in Phillies Coal Mine?

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Oct 5 2011 @ 1:14 pm In Philadelphia Phillies | No Comments

Cole Hamels pitched six innings of shutout baseball notching 8 strikeouts and surrendering 5 hits over 177 pitches – only to be countered by Jaime Garcia (7 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 K, 2 BB). Ryan Madson pitched his first 5-out save including slamming the door on a bases loaded jam to end the 8th inning. Albert Pujols and Ryan Theriot each went 4 for 5 to carry the Cardinals offense while Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz and John Mayberry got involved with the Phillies attack.

The hero of the game was Ben Francisco who came off the bench in the 7th inning to pinch hit in his first 2011 postseason plate appearance. Francisco socked a longball (his first HR since May 25) into the Phillies bullpen which would eventually prove to be the game winner and put the Phillies up 2-1 in the NLDS. Was this a series-shifting bomb or just a lucky shot? History will tell us when we look back whether or not this series was made by one swing of the bat from an unlikely hero or whether this was just one of many blows in a hard-fought battle between these teams.

This series has been defined by managerial moves or lack thereof. In Game One, Tony LaRussa opted to start Kyle Lohse opposite Roy Halladay. Charlie Manuel stuck to his Four Aces and regular lineup and said “Go Get ‘Em, Hoss.” Thanks to a Lance Berkman 3-run HR the Cardinals jumped out to a 3-0 lead on the 2010 Cy Young Award winner but that was all washed away when Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez went yard in the sixth to open the floodgates. Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins all had multiple hits and Hunter Pence was hitting laser beams all over the field. Phillies won that one 11-6. Game Two featured Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter on three days’ rest. LaRussa found himself heading out to the mound more frequently than an expectant father. Carpenter was gone by the fourth inning and LaRussa played Strat-O-Matic match game with his bullpen for the rest of the evening – and it worked. 5-4 Cardinals. Series tied. Leaving on a jet plane to Baseball Heaven.

Game Three featured Cole Hamels against Jaime Garcia, two southpaws that mowed batters down as differently as night and day. Hamels balances a killer changeup off his fastball and breaking stuff while Garcia throws softer and is maddening to aggressive batters. Both worked as this game remained scoreless until the seventh inning. Shadows were a factor in the early innings limiting hitters and fielders effectiveness (aside from Rafael Furcal’s grab of Hunter Pence’s screaming liner) but once the sun set the offenses caught fire. One pivotal moment was when Garcia was allowed to bat for himself with two on and two out in the bottom of the sixth. Garcia struck out and the Phillies onslaught would begin in the top of the seventh when Ben Francisco pinch hit for Cole Hamels and 405 feet later Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz were the first to greet their conquering hero at home plate.

The series comes down to Game 4. Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson take the mound but elimination mode has emerged. No matter what happens whether in St. Louis in Game 4 or Game 5 in Philadelphia, all hands are on deck, all nerves are on end and all cards are on the table. This series will see an elimination game very soon. Conventional wisdom and most oddsmakers will take the Phillies in 4 but don’t ask anyone in St. Louis to buy into that philosophy. Matt Holliday may find his way into the lineup if not another pinch hitting appearance while the rest of the Cardinals try to find a way to even this series at two games apiece. If that happens then it comes down to Game 5 in Philadelphia for a true Red October showdown, winner takes all, loser goes home.

Welcome to playoff baseball. Game on. Tune in tonight @ 6 PM EST.

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