Phils cap September with power surge in DC

Phils cap September with power surge in DC

WASHINGTON -- These final regular-season games don't mean much to the Phillies as a team, because they've already clinched their fourth straight National League East title.

But they mean a lot to some of the Phillies as individuals, because they're getting a chance for playing time that hasn't come their way this season. Ben Francisco is one of those players. He was in the lineup for a second consecutive game Wednesday, homering twice to lead Philadelphia to a 7-1 victory over Washington before 20,026 at Nationals Park.

Francisco was one of three usual reserves who carried the Phillies (95-64) in this game. Mike Sweeney and John Mayberry both homered, as Philadelphia banged out four dingers -- all off Ross Detwiler (1-3) in the first five innings. That gave starter Joe Blanton (9-6) a big early cushion and helped the right-hander to his fifth straight victory.

Francisco played a big role, finishing 3-for-4 with three RBIs and three runs scored. He came to the Phillies from the Indians in the Cliff Lee trade in July 2009. The outfielder hit a total of 15 homers in '09 after doing the same thing in '08.

But his playing time dropped this year, winding up being more of a pinch-hitter. Francisco had a .278 average as a pinch-hitter, and this was just his 29th start. He's also received just 170 at-bats.

"You just try and stay ready the whole year," Francisco said. "It's just tough, mentally, mechanically, all of it. It's a challenge, something you've got to get used to. It's tough to go out there and face big league pitching once every two weeks or so."

Francisco got to face that pitching in back-to-back nights. He went 2-for-4 in Tuesday's loss, then returned to go 3-for-4 with three RBIs Wednesday -- the fourth multihomer contest of his career.

"I trust Francisco," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "Francisco can hit. I've always said he could hit."

Francisco probably will see some more playing time in the regular season's final series before going to back to his usual role in the playoffs. His best chance to start again could come if the Phils advance to the World Series -- possibly in a designated-hitter role in an American League park.

Sweeney and Francisco hit back-to-back solo homers to lead off the second, putting the Phillies on top, 2-0. In the fourth, Sweeney walked to lead off, and Francisco followed with a single to center before Mayberry blasted a three-run homer.

The son of former Major League first baseman John Mayberry, he was recalled on Sept. 7 and finished the night 2-for-4 with three RBIs and his first homer this season. Francisco added his second homer in the fifth inning, ending Detwiler's night with a two-run shot to left.

All of this helped Blanton in one of his best efforts this season. The right-hander gave up one run on three hits in seven innings. He struck out six and didn't get into much trouble.

He's now 5-0 with a 3.03 ERA in his last 11 starts, and he hasn't lost since July 21.

Blanton is likely going to see more time in the bullpen at the start of the playoffs as the Phillies probably will need only their top three starters in the five-game NL Division Series. He understands the situation, said the team is fortunate to have Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels and that he'll be ready in the bullpen if needed.

"Basically, you can say they're three No. 1s, kind of three horses to go to," Blanton said. "That's a great thing to have. [But] I've relieved a little bit in the past. It's a little bit different, and there's a little bit of adjustment. But at the same time, pitching's kind of pitching."

The victory spoiled the final home game for Washington (68-91), which finished the season with a winning record at home (41-40) for the third time in six years since coming to town.

Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.