ST. LOUIS — Charlie Manuel guessed right, twice.
Tony La Russa, well, he wound up getting second-guessed. And on his 67th birthday.
Pinch-hitter Ben Francisco and closer Ryan Madson made their manager’s moves look smart, and the Philadelphia Phillies held off the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Tuesday for a 2-1 lead in their NL playoff series.
“To steal a game here, if worse comes to worst, we come back home and we’ve got another game with Doc (Halladay) on the mound,” Phillies slugger Ryan Howard said. “We put ourselves in a great situation.”
Francisco batted for Cole Hamels and broke open a scoreless game with a two-out, three-run homer off Jaime Garcia in the seventh inning. The Cardinals stuck with Garcia instead of opting for a pinch-hitter with two on and two outs in the sixth. Garcia struck out, then lost his pitching touch.
“Well, it didn’t work, so that’s bad managing,” La Russa said. “I’m watching him pitch and was really pleased. I thought he was the guy to continue pitching and I knew the matchups were in our favor. … It didn’t work.”
Madson earned his first multi-inning save of the year. He got Allen Craig to ground sharply into a double play with the bases loaded to escape in the eighth, then worked around Yadier Molina’s RBI single in the ninth.
Manuel’s reasoning: “I figured the game was on the line, and we had to stop them.”
The Phillies, favored to win it all after a franchise-record 102-win season, can finish off the wild-card Cardinals in Game 4 on Wednesday, with Roy Oswalt opposing Edwin Jackson.
The Cardinals are all too familiar with the win-or-else proposition. They won the NL wild card on the final day of the season, erasing a 10 1/2-game deficit on Aug. 25 to overtake the Braves.
“Listen, we flip the page and come back ready to play with the same energy we’ve been having the last six weeks,” said Albert Pujols, who had four hits. “We’ve been in this situation before.”
Francisco’s shot on a 1-0 fastball from Garcia was only his second hit in 19 postseason at-bats. He hit six homers this season, the last on May 25 against the Reds.
Francisco had been preparing for that moment against a lefty, and Manuel said after the game that he might have stuck with Francisco even if the Cardinals had changed pitchers.
“I didn’t know it was a homer, I knew I hit it good,” Francisco said. “I saw it bounce over the fence and just pure excitement, pure joy.”
Hamels struck out eight in six scoreless innings and reversed a disturbing trend after allowing nine homers in September, with a pair of doubles by Pujols the only extra-base hits. He’s a franchise-best 7-4 in the postseason with a 3.09 ERA.
“You don’t want to make mistakes, you don’t want to leave the ball over the plate,” Hamels said. “Every pitch mattered, every inning mattered. I knew I couldn’t let it get out of hand.”
The Cardinals frustrated a season-high crowd of 46,914 by stranding 14 runners. They set a National League record with 169 double-play balls this season.
“Sometimes you’re going to get a bunch of hits, sometimes you’re going to get no hits with men on base,” Pujols said. “I don’t think Allen hit a ball that hard all season like he did with the bases loaded.”
Ryan Theriot also had four hits for St. Louis, a heavy underdog in this series. The Cardinals had runners in scoring position in six innings but came up empty despite three hits in the eighth, including a pinch-hit single by Matt Holliday in only his second appearance of the series.
The Cardinals’ decision to let Garcia bat with two on and two outs in the sixth backfired in a big way. Garcia struck out on Hamels’ 117th pitch and wasn’t the same in the seventh.
The Phillies, held to three hits to that point, doubled that total in the seventh. Shane Victorino led off with a single and moved up on a passed ball before Carlos Ruiz was intentionally walked with two outs. Francisco, who had been 1 for 9 against Garcia, deposited a 1-0 fastball in the visitors’ bullpen in left-center.
Francisco was clutch at the end of the year, getting seven hits in his last 20 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Lefty vs. lefty percentages, even against Howard, allowed Garcia to elude trouble until the seventh.
Chase Utley singled with two outs in the sixth, breaking a string of nine straight batters retired by Garcia, and went to second on a wild pitch on an 0-1 delivery to Hunter Pence.
The Cardinals elected for an intentional walk at that point, and the move paid off when Howard, who is 2 for 15 with a homer and an RBI against Garcia counting the playoffs, tapped out weakly to first.
Garcia was at only 74 pitches through six, but needed 26 more in the seventh.
Hamels was up to the task as well, striking out David Freese with two runners on to end the first. The 2008 World Series MVP also got Garcia on a groundout with two on to end the fourth.
NOTES: Phillies leadoff man Jimmy Rollins had two hits and is 7 for 12 (.583) in the series. … Garcia threw first-pitch strikes to his first 10 hitters. … The Cardinals stole three bases in the first four innings. They totaled 57 in the regular season, second-lowest in the majors. … Placido Polanco singled in the ninth, ending an 0-for-29 slump against St. Louis in the postseason. He was 0 for 17 with Detroit in the 2006 World Series. … Counting the postseason, Theriot is 10 for 24 against Hamels. … Pujols and Theriot became the 11th and 12th Cardinals to get four hits in a postseason game. … The Phillies have five pinch-hit homers in the postseason, the last by Matt Stairs on Oct. 13, 2008, in the NLCS at Los Angeles.