ST. LOUIS - Eighteen days before Ben Francisco won a postseason game with one swing, he saw the future. He was in Philadelphia and Jaime Garcia was on the mound. The lefty threw him a fastball belt-high and on the outer edge of the plate. Francisco stepped on first base, saw Lance Berkman complete a leaping catch at the wall, and slammed his hands together while shouting a curse.
"I was thinking about it all day," Francisco said Tuesday.
Here he was, 18 days later, wearing a Phillies hooded sweatshirt and surrounded by cameras in a visitors clubhouse at Busch Stadium that celebrated an improbable 3-2 victory over the Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League division series.
Ben Francisco was the hero, the man who altered the series with one swing. It was a Garcia fastball, belt-high and outside, and this time it carried over the fence for a three-run, pinch-hit home run in the seventh inning of a scoreless tie. The Phillies lead the best-of-five series, two games to one, and can eliminate St. Louis with a win Wednesday.
"In my role," Francisco said, "you kind of picture yourself there in a big situation."
The Phillies survived only because of a five-out save by Ryan Madson, only the third such one of his career. With the bases loaded in the eighth, Madson induced a double play ball hit to Chase Utley. He sprinted 15 feet to second then threw to first to escape.
In the ninth, Madson allowed a run before sealing the victory. St. Louis had at least one runner on base every inning but still lost.
Francisco woke up Tuesday knowing the Phillies were facing Garcia again and he remembered the 88 m.p.h. fastball that came so close. During the game, Francisco sat in the dugout and watched Cole Hamels' pitch count rise. With a lefty on the mound and John Mayberry Jr. already in the game, Francisco figured he would be the first one off the bench to hit.
He is, by nature, a quiet man. Francisco is usually one of the first Phillies to dress at his locker after games. His teammates call him "Benny Fresh" because of his modest but smooth style.
This was supposed to be Francisco's year. He was married in the winter to his longtime girlfriend. Ruben Amaro Jr. phoned him before spring training to bestow an organization's faith in the 29-year-old as the Phillies starting rightfielder - a job he held for less than two months.
"You could tell he was disappointed," Charlie Manuel said.
Even then, Manuel always liked Francisco because he could hit a fastball. He'd say it over and over again. Just give Benny a fastball and you'll see . . .
Garcia did and Francisco hit it 405 feet. It was his Matt Stairs moment and a swing every bit as pivotal. He hadn't homered since May 25, a span of 107 at-bats. Only once in his career had he homered off the bench - and that was four years ago. He was 1 for 9 against Garcia.
Shane Victorino singled to begin the seventh and he was the first leadoff man on base for either team. A passed ball moved him to second. With two outs, Tony La Russa elected to intentionally walk Carlos Ruiz to face Francisco.
"I was pretty much looking for a fastball," Francisco said.
On second base, Shane Victorino was hoping the ball landed in the gap. In the bullpen, they shouted. Vance Worley was warming up. "Get up! Get up!" he yelled. Mick Billmeyer, the bullpen coach, was catching him. "It's gone!" Billmeyer screamed.
The ball bounced twice and into Jesus Tiamo's glove. The Spanish-speaking bullpen catcher held onto the ball. He offered it back later, but Francisco autographed the ball and gifted it to Tiamo. The feeling was enough of a memory.