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.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.