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August 03, 2016

Franco rallies Phillies bats in come-from-behind win over Giants

Wednesday night marked the Phillies debut of two pitchers: Phil Klein, who many Phillies fans probably had never heard of prior to Wednesday afternoon, and Michael Mariot, who maybe a half dozen people remember from spring training for being the guy who never pitched in a Grapefruit League game.

Needless to say, the excitement level at the ballpark (at least until the last two innings) wasn’t close to matching Tuesday night, when the Phillies and Giants hit a combined three three-run home runs and the home plate umpire ejected an unruly fan from the game. The Phillies were in a bind with their pitching on Wednesday because Aaron Nola, the scheduled starter, was placed the disabled list with a (possibly season-ending) elbow injury.

But just like a night earlier, when scoring eight runs off Madison Bumgarner was foiled by Zach Eflin’s inability to hold a six-run lead, the Phillies plucky offense was undeterred. The bats breathed life into the ballpark after Johnny Cueto (10 strikeouts) had toyed with them for the first two-thirds of the game.

On a night when the Phillies trailed 4-0 entering the 7th inning, Maikel Franco tied it with a two-out, two-run single in the eighth and then walked it off with a blistering single/fielder's choice/honestly-who-cares (More on that confusion in a bit.) into center with the bases loaded in the 12th inning. The 5-4 victory gave the Phillies back-to-back wins for the first time since July 6, when they were riding a four-game winning streak.

"We play as a team, we don’t give up," said Franco, whose team endured a gut-punch of a Giants comeback a night earlier but were resilient enough to bounce back, just as they didn't let facing nine outs from being shut out shake them Wednesday.

"Everyone does a really good job of that," Franco continued. "We showed a lot of energy and everyone did something to help the team. That’s what the game is all about. If you do the little things in baseball, you’ll have success and that’s what happening right now."

As Franco said, it wasn't just him that guided the Phillies to a win over the National League West-leading Giants. 

The come-from-behind win began in the seventh, thanks to the elder statesman in the Phillies lineup, Ryan Howard. The 36-year-old Howard, in the penultimate month of his Phillies career, had accounted for two of the Phillies three hits entering the seventh, when he skied an opposite field home run just inside the left-field foul pole to ruin Cueto’s shutout bid.

The home run was Howard’s 15th of the season. Cameron Rupp followed with his 12th of the season, giving the Phillies back-to-back home runs for the fifth time this season and cutting the Giants lead in half, too.

In the eighth, after Aaron Altherr’s infield single was overturned by an umpire’s replay review for the second out, Franco ripped a game-tying, two-run single. Franco, who entered the homestand in an 0-for-16 slump, has broken out in the last two nights against Bumgarner and Cueto, following a four-hit night on Tuesday with Wednesday's heroics.

Franco used an aggressive approach in each of his last two at-bats on Wednesday, jumping on the first good pitch he saw in each time.

"The first three at-bats (Cueto) threw me balls right down the middle and I just took it," he explained. "So in the fourth at-bat, I knew it was a good situation and he threw me that pitch, a fastball right there, and I put good contact on it."

Howard, relegated to backup duty for the majority of the last two months, has also got his bat in gear lately. He’s hitting .316 (12-for-38) with four home runs and two doubles in the 15 games he’s played in since July 7.

And then there was the bullpen.

After Klein (5 IP, 4 runs) was through, the six-pack of relievers that followed (Brett Oberholtzer, Mariot, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, David Hernandez, and Luis Garcia) held the Giants to two hits in seven shutout innings. But it wasn't just about what the did on the mound, either.

After Tommy Joseph led off the 12th inning by getting hit by a pitch, Garcia, who had all of two plate appearances in 112 big league games (and zero in 197 minor league games in eight seasons), was able to lay down a successful sacrifice bunt to move the lead runner into scoring position. 

After Cesar Hernandez walked and Altherr reached on an error, Franco delivered the game-ending hit.

"That was key," Mackanin said of Garcia's bunt. "We were running slim on pitchers, I only had a catcher left. I didn’t want to use Chooch (Carlos Ruiz) unless we were behind. If I did have to use Chooch because we were behind in the bottom of our half of the inning, he was going to go to second base. 

"I had to keep my only other catcher in the game. But Garcia, we asked him to bunt and he laid down a beauty. It was great to see. That was huge, a key part.”

Now, about that game-ending play. 

When the Phillies returned to the clubhouse after the walk-off win, they were under the impression that Franco's hit wasn't a hit, but a fielder's choice. While his former team celebrated, Giants outfielder Hunter Pence retrieved the ball and threw to second, where the Giants recorded a force out since Altherr never touched the back, when he should have, advancing from first base on the play.

Altherr was obviously very thankful there were not two outs at the time of the play otherwise ... the game wouldn't have ended, but the inning would have.

"I think half the team told him," Mackanin said, when asked if the outfielder had been scolded.

"Kind of got caught up in the moment a little bit," Altherr said. "I definitely feel terrible about it, but I learned from it."

But since the official scorer eventually ruled it a hit – an hour and 13 minutes after the game ended, citing Rule 5.08 (b) –Altherr will not have to buy Franco dinner for robbing him of a hit.

Franco, who was the only one, statistically, who would benefit on whether it was or was not a hit, was able to put the final play into the best perspective.

"Win the game – that’s the more important (thing)," Franco said. "When you’re coming in you have to do the job, you have to try to win the ballgame, that’s what was most important. ... I got my RBI, we win the ballgame, that’s what this game is all about."

UPDATE: Apparently on Thursday morning it was decided that everyone waiting an hour and 13 minutes last night was completely useless, as the Franco walk-off was reversed to be scored as a fielder's choice. So much for Rule 5.08 (b).

The play was reminiscent of one of the more forgettable (most forgettable?) plays in Giants history: "Merkle's boner."

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