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ST. LOUIS — Big swings by a slumping hitter, clutch innings by a journeyman pitcher. Suddenly, the St. Louis Cardinals are looking very dangerous.
As for the Philadelphia Phillies? Things have turned downright squirrelly.
David Freese, shut down by Phillies aces the first three games, became a hometown star Wednesday night. He homered, doubled and drove in four runs as the Cardinals defeated nemesis Roy Oswalt and forced a deciding fifth game in their NL playoff series by beating the favored Phillies 5-3.
“This is what you worked for,” said Freese, a local prep star who came to the Cardinals in a trade for Jim Edmonds after the 2007 season. “Just to do this in front of the fans of St. Louis and a bunch of friends and family, it’s amazing.”
Center fielder Jon Jay made a sliding catch on Placido Polanco’s soft fly for the final out, and was already pointing his index finger before he got to his feet.
“They’re good friends and old teammates, and Carp was really chomping at the bit for this opportunity to pitch against Roy on full rest in a huge Game 5,” Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday said. “It should be quite a battle and then it’ll be fun to watch two great competitors go head to head and two great teams get after it.”
“Might be fitting that it goes down to the fifth game,” he said. “It’s up to us to go get it. It’s sitting right there for us. We’ve got our ace going, and we’re at home, and so everything is sitting right there.”
The 102-win Phillies were picked by many to win it all. But first they must dispose of the wild-card Cardinals, who clinched a playoff spot on the last day of the season and have gotten the best of two members of the Phils’ star-studded rotation.
An omen, maybe: Right after Oswalt threw a pitch in the fifth, a squirrel darted across the plate.
Oswalt argued, unsuccessfully, that the creature’s dash had distracted him on a pitch called a ball.
“I didn’t want to stop in the middle of my motion, so I threw it,” Oswalt said. “I was wondering what size of animal it needed to be for it not to be a pitch.”
Manuel argued, to no avail.
By Brahma Chellaney
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