With Tuesday's win over the Cardinals, the Phils have a lead of two games to one in the best-of-five series and are set up to pitch Roy Oswalt and, if necessary, Roy Halladay in the remaining games. When the front office put together the team's deep, talented rotation, it was to provide just that kind of advantage.
"Obviously, we're feeling real good with where we're at right now," reliever Brad Lidge said. "We have two Roys going for us, if we need that second one, and you've got to feel good about your chances when that's the case."
Oswalt could close things out Wednesday against Edwin Jackson, giving the Phillies a breather before the National League Championship Series commences, but whatever happens, it probably won't happen easily.
In this series, the Phillies had to come back to win the opener after Halladay uncharacteristically faltered in the first inning, then they lost the second game in Citizens Bank Park when their offense went to sleep against the undistinguished bullpen of St. Louis.
On Tuesday, with the series moving to Busch Stadium, the offense continued to slumber against pitcher Jaime Garcia, the very kind of slop-balling lefthander who always seems to give the Phillies trouble. They went quietly through the first six innings with just three hits, and with every passing inning cranking the dial on the Stress-O-Meter.
Fortunately for the Phillies, lefthander Cole Hamels, the only homegrown product among the franchise's collection of four top starters, was keeping things pretty quiet in the bottom halves of the innings, too. The Cardinals worked Hamels hard and forced him to throw a lot of pitches, but they couldn't break through despite putting five runners in scoring position against him.
Each time there was a threat, and the Cards didn't have a single 1-2-3 inning against him, Hamels calmly defused the situation. Hamels didn't let a ball leave the infield when there was a runner, finishing off two of those innings with strikeouts and two others with easy ground balls.
"It was a tight game. I knew every pitch mattered, every inning mattered," Hamels said. "They had a great pitcher on the opposing team, so I knew I couldn't let it get out of hand, especially in a 1-1 series. We're not in our home park anymore, and you definitely focus and try to dig deep a little bit more."
Hamels and Garcia dueled until the top of the seventh, when Hamels, having thrown 117 pitches, was taken out for a pinch-hitter with two outs and two runners on base. The Cardinals had elected to walk catcher Carlos Ruiz, preferring to pitch to Francisco in the biggest situation of the game.
Francisco got a high fastball and put it into the bullpen in left field, giving the Phillies a lead that would stand up, even if only barely. It hasn't been an easy season for Francisco. He had an opportunity to win the everyday right-field job and couldn't do it. His playing time dwindled in the second half of the season, and Tuesday's hit was his first home run since May 25.
"All that matters is that we're here today, and whatever you do today is pretty much going to define you," Francisco said. "The past is the past . . . and I didn't really think about it. Charlie [Manuel] put me in there, and I got a big hit."
The 3-0 lead provided by Francisco had to survive a furious final three innings by the St. Louis offense, in which the Cardinals brought 16 batters to the plate and put five runners in scoring position but were able to bring only two of them home.
Now it is the Cardinals who are desperate, in need of a sweep in the final two games to survive.
"Their team is going to come at us hungry again, because they need to win," said Ryan Madson, who got the final five outs for the save. "We need to score some more runs. If we do that, we'll be fine."
Even so, it still probably won't be easy. Not in this series. Not with these two teams.
But as Francisco said, what matters isn't what has happened before, but what happens next. It is a dense thicket through October, and the Phillies are working hard to find the path.
Contact columnist Bob Ford
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