Somebody within Maikel Franco's inner circle knows exactly how the Phillies third baseman felt in the middle of June when it appeared as if he had been relegated to a bench role by manager Gabe Kapler. Rookie J.P. Crawford was on the move from shortstop to third base and rookie Scott Kingery was in the midst of becoming a regular at shortstop.

Franco, a fifth-year veteran, had just gone through a 23-game stretch in which he hit .189 with one home run and two extra-base hits. He was hitting .249 overall with a .289 on-base percentage and a .707 OPS. The spring-training quest to get him to launch more balls in the air did not appear to be working.

Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco lifts a game-winning home run into the left-field seats in the ninth inning Thursday night against the Miami Marlins.
YONG KIM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco lifts a game-winning home run into the left-field seats in the ninth inning Thursday night against the Miami Marlins.

Kapler said the Phillies wanted to see more of the two rookies on the left side of his infield and it was going to happen at the expense of the guy whose track record had not been encouraging since his own rookie season when Franco was one of the top young prospects in baseball.

Somebody knows what Maikel Franco felt at that moment.

You weren't going to find out what that feeling was Thursday night. Not after Franco's ninth-inning at-bat against the Miami Marlins. Not after he lifted a 2-0 slider from Miami's Kyle Barraclough into the left-field seats for a three-run home run that gave the Phillies a 5-2 victory on a night when the offense was mostly just off through the first eight innings.

If you wanted to know what Franco felt at the moment when his first career walk-off home run cleared the wall in left field all you had to do was watch him round the bases. Franco did not flip his bat in the air as he made his way up the first-base line. He launched it high enough to eclipse the moon shot he had sent into the seats. He flipped his helmet, too. If he had not been required to round the bases, he might have just stopped and done a song and dance.

"I watched the replay and the best part was he was talking to the ball," left fielder Rhys Hoskins said after drawing the leadoff walk that triggered the Phillies' four-run rally in the ninth.

It was pure joy and Franco's teammates could not wait to greet him when he got to home plate.

"That's the biggest hit of the season, I think," Hoskins said. "It keeps us in first place. I think it's going to give us some momentum for the rest of the series. I think if you're able to do that to an opposing team in the first game, it kind of deflates them. Mikey's at-bats have been really fun to watch. He's hit the ball in the air a lot more and he has the talent to carry a team the way he has the last few months."

Still, it would be fascinating to know just how deflated Franco was eight weeks ago. Not only was he on the bench, but his name was also being bandied about in trade rumors.

"Never give up, man," Franco said when asked about his last six weeks. "I come in every single day and do everything I can do to prepare. I never take anything for granted. Just do my job, do my work and be ready."

OK, but it had to hurt.

"Not at all," Franco said. "I understand the situation. I understand everything. I was just waiting for my moment."

It came quickly. Crawford was hit by a pitch and broke his left hand in a June 19 game against St. Louis. Since that date, Franco has batted .331 with nine home runs, eight doubles, 20 RBIs and a .989 OPS.

Kapler believes the benching motivated his third baseman.

"What I think it says is that people are motivated by different things," Kapler said. "And Mikey turned a moment that wasn't necessarily what he wanted into real motivation. And since that day, he has been running  every ball out. He has been preparing like a mad man. His process has been exceptional."

Perhaps that's exactly what happened. There are some great stories in baseball about managers motivating their players with tough love. The late Jim Fregosi once told Darren Daulton he needed to get better if he wanted to be the Phillies' leader. Charlie Manuel once pinch-hit for Jim Thome.

Maybe Kapler provided the light-bulb moment for Franco.

"He's made some swing changes," the manager said. "He's made some approach changes at the plate. He's among our best hitters. They flashed his July stats up there. They were sensational and August is off to a good start for him as well."

That still does not tell us how Franco felt at that moment when he was benched, but it was clear how he felt Thursday night when he launched his bat in the air and ran into the arms of his celebrating teammates at home plate.

"I get too excited, I know, I know," Franco said. "But I'll take it anyway."

He should. He has come a long way in eight weeks.