For five innings, Jamie Garcia more dominant than any Phillies pitcher had been in the National League Division Series so far. For five innings, Garcia was the aceiest ace to ace in the series that was chock full of aces. The only problem is that Garcia pitched seven innings. Ben Francisco hit a two-out, pinch-hit, three-run home run to give the Phillies a lead they wouldn't relinquish, and they took the third game of the series against the Cardinals, winning 3-2.
Garcia made it through five innings having thrown just 51 pitches. He was the story of the game early on, getting the Phillies to pound his sinker into the ground early in the count. His counterpart, Cole Hamels, was just as effective keeping runs off the board, but not as effective with his pitch count. As the sixth inning started, Hamels was already approaching 100 pitches. Garcia was siting at 75. That appeared to be something that favored the Cardinals.
But Garcia's game logs are a curious thing. He has a couple of complete-game shutouts in 2011, and eight other games in which he pitched seven innings or more. But in more than two-thirds of his outings, he didn't make it into the seventh inning. He's often dominant early, and if he runs into trouble, it's usually in the later innings.
It turns out that the low pitch count killed the Cardinals. With two outs and two runners on in the bottom of the sixth inning, Tony La Russa let Jamie Garcia hit for himself. It was quasi-defensible at the time -- Garcia really was pitching well before a long sixth inning.
In the top of the sixth, Charlie Manuel didn't have a tough decision. Hamels was at 117 pitches, and there were two runners on base. Pinch-hitting for him was the kind of decision that a computer opponent would make in a video game.
Garcia struck out in his at-bat, stranding his fourth and fifth runners of the game.
Ben Francisco pinch-hit for Hamels and sent the second pitch he saw -- a hanging sinker in the middle of the strike zone -- over the left-center field fence.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, La Russa would make a different decision. In the moment, though, you can almost understand it. The Cardinals have had bullpen issues, and while the Fernando Salas/Jason Motte duo has been reliable, anything before the eighth inning is a little dicey. If Garcia were at 100 pitches, or close to it? Easy decision. Because he was so effective early, though, he forced his manager into a decision that cost the Cardinals the game in retrospect. Sometimes baseball is a nasty, unfair game.
In the eighth inning, the Cardinals mounted a threat against the Phillies' bullpen. Ryan Theriot led off with a single, and with one out, pinch hitter Matt Holliday grounded a ball into the 5.5 hole. Rafael Furcal singled to load the bases. That brought in closer Ryan Madson to face Allen Craig, who hit a rocket ... right to Chase Utley for an inning-ending double play. No, seriously, sometimes baseball is a nasty, unfair game, Allen.
After all the late charges from the Cardinals, though, the difference in the game is that one of the Phillies hit a ball over the fence. Sometimes baseball is a simple, understandable game. It was Francisco's first home run since May 25th, also known as the Wilson Valdez game, and it propelled the Phillies to a 2-1 advantage in the NLDS. They can close it out on Wednesday, with Roy Oswalt going against Edwin Jackson.