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Performer of the game: Phils OF Francisco

Performer of the game: Phils OF Francisco

Performer of the game: Phils OF Francisco
ST. LOUIS -- Ben Francisco went from a forgotten man on the roster to an October hero with one sweet swing of the bat Tuesday night. And he put the Phillies within a game of reaching the National League Championship Series, in the process.

Francisco, buried on Philadelphia's bench for much of the second half of the season, played the role of the unlikeliest of heroes by ripping a three-run pinch-hit home run in the seventh inning to send Philadelphia to a 3-2 win in Game 3 of the NL Division Series.

Who cares that his role diminished as the season progressed and that he hardly stepped onto the field in the second half of the year? Francisco's first homer since May 25 may go down as one of the Phillies' biggest postseason hits in recent memory.

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"All that matters," Francisco said, "is we're here today, and whatever you do today is going to pretty much define you. The past is the past."

Francisco is living proof.

Pinch-hitting for starting pitcher Cole Hamels, Francisco turned on a 1-0 fastball from Cardinals left-handed starter Jaime Garcia and shot it on a line, 405 feet to the back of the Phillies' bullpen to break a scoreless tie. Philadelphia's dugout erupted, knowing it had taken control of the series.

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"It was huge," Francisco said. "I got to play a little bit in September and kind of started feeling pretty good, and [I] had a lot of confidence going into the postseason. Having all those at-bats definitely helped, and I felt good going into that at-bat."

For all the talk about the Phillies' starting rotation and the solid track records of high-profile stars like Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard and Hunter Pence, it was Francisco who saved Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Imagine that.

"It always takes 25 guys to win this game," Victorino said. "Yeah, you run your regular eight out there, but the guys on the bench and the bullpen, they all came into play. ... Guys off the bench like Ben came up, and the bullpen came in and closed the door."

Big off the bench
All-time postseason pinch-hit homers with at least two runners on in seventh inning or later
Date
Game
Batter
Team
Opp.
Pitcher
Inn.
9/29/54
WS 1
Dusty Rhodes
NYG
Cle.
Bob Lemon
Bot 10
10/21/75
WS 6
Bernie Carbo
Bos.
Cin.
Rawly Eastwick
Bot 8
10/3/79
ALCS 1
John Lowenstein
Bal.
Cal.
John Montague
Bot 10
10/27/89
WS 3
Bill Bathe
S.F.
Oak.
Gene Nelson
Bot 9
10/17/99
ALCS 4
Ricky Ledee
NYY
Bos.
Rod Beck
Top 9
10/5/00
NLDS 2
J.T. Snow
S.F.
NYM
Armando Benitez
Bot 9
10/4/11
NLDS 3
Ben Francisco
Phi.
Stl.
Jaime Garcia
Top 7

So who is Francisco? Unless you follow the Phillies closely, he was a mystery man prior to becoming the fifth player in Philadelphia history to hit a pinch-hit home run in the playoffs and the first since Matt Stairs in 2008.

Francisco was selected by the Indians in the fifth round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft and made his Major League debut less than five years later. He was traded, along with current Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee, to Philadelphia on July 29, 2009, in exchange for four prospects.

The 29-year-old won the starting right-field job out of Spring Training this year, but he eventually lost it to Domonic Brown, who held it until Pence was acquired on July 29. Francisco started 63 games in the regular season, only 10 of which came after July 3, as he became buried on the bench behind Pence, Victorino, Raul Ibanez and John Mayberry Jr.

Still, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel somehow knew Francisco was the right man for the situation Tuesday, despite the fact he was 1-for-18 in the postseason in his career prior to the home run and 1-for-9 in his career against Garcia.

"What goes into my thinking?" Manuel said. "I sent him up there to hit, because I like him on the lefty, and I might have even let him hit on a righty. I don't know. It depends who they put in, because he can hit a fastball, and I definitely liked him on the lefty. He's a good hitter."

And Francisco was pretty much the Phillies' secret weapon.

"I think one thing that makes Ben kind of dangerous is having him on the bench and being overlooked, because he's a good hitter," reliever Brad Lidge said. "Especially against lefties in situations like that, he's tough. It was a great move, it was the right move, and he really came through for us and got us the win tonight."

For Francisco, getting the chance to bask in the postseason glory was gratifying, considering the roller-coaster ride his career has taken in the past few years -- from a prospect in Cleveland to a part of the future in Philadelphia to the 25th man.

Now, he's a postseason hero.

"In my role, you kind of picture yourself there in a big situation as a pinch-hitter," Francisco said. "You try and come through for your team. It was a big game, like Cole said, so you try to score that one run, because you feel like you want to win it. And I got it through, and it was pretty exciting coming around the bases and celebrating with the guys. But we have to come back and win one more game."

Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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