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Jackson settles, Freese shines as Cardinals force Game 5

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“I knew I couldn’t let the game overwhelm me,” Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson told a reporter a few minutes after the conclusion of Wednesday night’s 5-3 NLDS Game 4 victory over the Phillies.

Whether that mindset came to the right-hander in hindsight or he truly felt mentally calm after allowing a double, triple and single within his first five pitches, Jackson indeed responded and settled in. After that rough first frame, he retired 17 of the next 20 batters he faced before exiting to a three-run lead.

Cardinals third baseman David Freese hit a two-run go-ahead double in the fourth inning, then launched a towering two-run homer to the center field lawn in the bottom of the sixth. A product of the west St. Louis suburbs, he was granted a chill-inducing curtain call by the Busch Stadium faithful after his blast.

This five-game NLDS will come down to Game 5, Friday night in Philadelphia. Chris Carpenter vs. Roy Halladay. Two old friends and former teammates, both on normal rest. It should be a heck of a finish.

Notes

* The sun caused some issues in the first inning when Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay failed to get a good initial read on a leadoff hit by Jimmy Rollins. The Phillies scored two in that opening frame.

* The Phillies also experienced problems in center field during the first inning, when Shane Victorino’s front foot slipped out from under him while he was trying to throw a ball back to the infield. The outfield grass at Busch Stadium had to be completely replaced after a U2 concert in July and hasn’t fully recovered.

* Freese was 2-for-13 with six strikeouts in the series before his double and heroic home run.

* Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols made one of the best defensive plays of this postseason, picking off Chase Utley as he tried to advance from first to third during a sixth-inning infield hit by Hunter Pence.

* A squirrel dashed across home plate while Phillies starter Roy Oswalt was delivering a pitch to Skip Schumaker in the bottom of the fifth. Oswalt tried to argue for a do-over on the pitch — called a ball — but home plate umpire Angel Hernandez appeared to laugh off that suggestion. Schumaker then flied out. A squirrel (possibly the same one) also reached the playing field in Game 3 Tuesday evening.

* Phillies slugger Ryan Howard went 0-for-8 in both games back in St. Louis, his hometown.

* Placido Polanco, still being bothered by a sports hernia, is 2-for-16 so far in this five-game series.

* Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday (finger) was 1-for-3 with two runs scored in his return to the lineup.

Shohei Otani may come to the United States after 2017

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Last week it was widely speculated that Shohei Otani, the highly-touted Japanese pitcher/designated hitter who stars for the Nippon Ham Fighters, would not come to the United States to play due to changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The upshot: the new CBA caps money available to international free agents under age 25 at $5-6 million and Otani, 22, would be worth way more than that, so why take the pay cut?

Now, however, Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that the Fighters are set to post Shotei Otani following the 2017 season. Passan says that his sources have told him that there are potential ways around the limit on spending for under-25 players like Shohei Otani and he links a Japanese article from Sponichi which says the Fighters would post him after the 2017 season.

It’d be interesting to see what that loophole is. Without knowing the exact terms of the CBA on this score it’s impossible to know, but one possibility is that there are different rules applicable to those with professional experience in other countries as opposed to amateur free agents.

Whatever the case, the notion that we could see Otani in the U.S. at age 23 or 24 is pretty exciting.

Report: Phillies close to signing Joaquin Benoit

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 15, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the Phillies are close to signing free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit. An announcement is expected before the winter meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, has quietly been among the better relievers in baseball over the past seven years. This past season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, the right-hander put up an aggregate 2.81 ERA with a 52/24 K/BB ratio in 48 innings. That included a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after the Jays acquired him from the Mariners.

Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle during a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees near the end of the regular season. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training.

The Phillies have now added three relievers this offseason with Benoit, Pat Neshek, and David Rollins.