Memorable homer from Francisco, a guy who'd Ben forgotten

Ben Francisco rounds second base after hitting dramatic, three-run homer in seventh inning.
Ben Francisco rounds second base after hitting dramatic, three-run homer in seventh inning. (RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 05, 2011

ST. LOUIS - Three years ago, give or take a couple of weeks, Matt Stairs waddled up to the plate as a pinch-hitter for the Phillies and launched a satellite into the Southern California sky. Sitting in the Dodger Stadium auxiliary press box that night, in the stands high above home plate, was to witness the majesty of the thing in panorama, a home run both as a physical feat and as a portent. It was a moment in full.

This one seems different. At lot has happened to the Phillies in the last three seasons - a world championship, first and most important. When Ben Francisco hit his pinch-hit, three-run homer last night against the Cardinals - providing the Phillies with all of their runs in a 3-2 victory - it was unexpected, yes, and it was dramatic, yes, and it won a crucial game for the Phillies in a manner that no one had committed to pen and paper in a script.

But this one seems more personal than cosmic, less a predictor of the future than a simple, wonderful moment for a player whose season was wrapped in disappointment. Because Francisco was the Opening Day rightfielder for the Phillies and then he wasn't, replaced by Domonic Brown and then by Hunter Pence, marginalized and left to wonder.

Now, with one screaming shot into the Phillies' bullpen, Francisco owns a new narrative. For as long as people talk about this era in the franchise's history, Francisco's story will always be one of the epistles of October.

"It feels great," Francisco said. "We came to spring training to win the World Series and we have a chance to do that. I still can contribute in different ways. But today was a big hit, and we have a few more to get . . .

"Looking back, it's definitely been not the way I wanted it to go. I kind of went into a slump there and never really played again. But like I said, when you get to the postseason, you can change your season. You can make something out of it, and that's what I tried to do."

Francisco hit it in the top of the seventh inning off Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia, but his preparation began well before his walk from the on-deck circle to the plate. Being a professional pinch-hitter is a brutally difficult way to make a living, and what they all talk about is the importance of preparation and being ready. Francisco is no different.

And so, as the game progressed, and Cole Hamels finished two innings with 39 pitches and four innings with 78 pitches, Francisco did not know the exact numbers, but he knew where this might be headed.

"Once I saw Cole's pitch count getting up," he said, "I knew a lefty was on the mound and [John] Mayberry was playing, so it was probably going to be me. So I went there and took some swings off of Ali and got ready to hit."

Ali is Ali Modami, the Phillies' batting-practice pitcher. He is one of those people who operates in baseball's shadows but who helps to make the operation go. During games, he is available to whoever wants to take some practice swings in the visitors' batting cage underneath the stands. His job is simple enough: pitch in such a way that the guy leaves the cage feeling good about himself.

"It's just batting practice," Modami said. "I'm throwing the ball 50 miles an hour. I'm just throwing the ball and letting him hit it far. Just get him loose. Whatever I can do to help Ben, it's my pleasure."

This day, Francisco said he left the cage in a good frame of mind. He said, "You definitely know when you feel good. Today, I felt good. The last few weeks, I've felt pretty good swinging the bat. I just tried to stay with that."

The last time the Cardinals were in Philadelphia, Francisco had an at-bat off Garcia in which he hit the ball to the wall. He hit a sinker that day, but just caught it on the end of his bat. Knowing that Garcia was on the mound again, he replayed the at-bat and the pitch in his head. "I was thinking about it all day," he said.

And then Garcia threw him a sinker that didn't, and Francisco owned the night.

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