Ben Francisco powers Phillies to 2-1 lead over Cardinals in NLDS

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Ben Francisco delivered a three-run pinch-hit home run off Jaime Garcia in the top of the seventh inning while the bullpen survived two late rallies as the Phillies topped the Cardinals 3-2 in Game 3 of the NLDS.

We had ourselves a pretty compelling pitchers’ duel over the first six innings as Garcia and Cole Hamels traded zeroes. Garcia was much more efficient than Hamels, but the Cardinals couldn’t break through despite a number of opportunities.

It’s easy to say this now, since we know how the game ended, but the Cardinals had a prime opportunity to break through in the bottom of the sixth inning. Ryan Theriot, who was 4-for-5 on the day, moved into scoring position with two outs after a walk by Jon Jay, but La Russa elected to stick with Garcia instead of sending up a pinch-hitter. Garcia struck out swinging and proceeded to allow the three-run pinch-hit blast to Francisco in the next half inning. That’s baseball.

After some shaky relief work by Vance Worley, Antonio Bastardo and Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson came on to record a five-out save. He induced a huge double play ground ball with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth and gave up one run on two hits in the ninth. It was his first save of more than three outs this season.

On the brink of elimination, the Cardinals will send Edwin Jackson to the hill tomorrow night while Roy Oswalt starts for the Phillies.

Notes

– That home run by Ben Francisco? His first since May 25.

– As I said in the live blog, I hated the walk the intentional walk to Carlos Ruiz. It essentially gave Charlie Manuel the opportunity for the perfect matchup. Even if Tony La Russa brought in a right-hander to face Ben Francisco, we likely would have seen Raul Ibanez. Not saying Ibanez would have homered, but Manuel had the upper hand and the Phillies took advantage.

– Jaime Garcia allowed three runs on six hits over seven innings while striking out three and walking two. He retired the side in order in four out of the first five innings.

– Just to show you how little teams fear Ryan Howard against left-handed pitching, the Cardinals walked Hunter Pence with first base open and two outs in the top of the sixth inning in order to pitch to him.

– Cole Hamels struck out eight over six shutout innings, but he also gave up five hits, walked three and hit a batter. He was pulled after throwing 72 out of 117 pitches for strikes.

– Just when it looked like another major mistake by the umpires on the postseason stage, they finally got one right. After a catch by Skip Schumaker in the top of the ninth inning was originally ruled as a trap by Jerry Meals, the umpires huddled together and reversed the call. It likely would have been a double play if it was ruled as a catch from the get-go, but kudos, anyway.

– Ryan Theriot and Albert Pujols combined for eight of the Cardinals’ 12 hits on the day. Pujols went 4-for-5 with three doubles. This was his first career four-hit game in the postseason and his first with three doubles.

– The Cardinals had a total of 18 baserunners on the night, but only scored twice. They left 14 men on base.

Video: Albert Almora, Jr. lays out to make a great catch in deep right-center field

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Cubs center fielder Albert Almora, Jr. robbed Giants first baseman Brandon Belt of at least a double in the top of the first inning of Monday’s game at Wrigley Field. Almora completely left his feet to catch the ball before landing just shy of the warning track.

The Giants took the early lead two batters prior to Belt’s at-bat as Joe Panik hit a solo home run to center field.

Anibal Sanchez accepts optional assignment to Triple-A

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The Tigers announced on Monday that pitcher Anibal Sanchez has accepted an optional assignment to Triple-A Toledo. Pitcher Warwick Saupold was recalled from Toledo to take Sanchez’s roster spot.

Sanchez, 33, continued to struggle this season pitching out of the bullpen. He gave up 26 runs (21 earned) on 34 hits and nine walks with 22 strikeouts in 21 innings. Nine of those 34 hits were home runs. Sanchez finished the 2015 season with a 4.99 ERA and last season with a 5.87 ERA, so he’s had a rough go of it in recent years.

The decision to go to Triple-A was Sanchez’s, Anthony Fenech of the Free Press reports. Sanchez wants to be stretched out as a starting pitcher again.