The Semi-Final Game
After winning their second East Division title in three years, the Gulf Coast League Cardinals once again fell in the one-game semifinal. With a final record of 37-23, the Cardinals had earned the No. 2 seed and a home game against the Red Sox. It was an interesting matchup because the Cardinals had the league’s best home record at 21-9 and the Red Sox had the same 21-9 record in away games, also the league’s best.
In the bottom of the first inning Friday against the Red Sox starter Michael Kopech, their first-round pick in June, the Cardinals jumped out to a 3-0 lead, a nice crooked number but nowhere close to the 14 runs they posted a day earlier in the first inning of the last regular-season game.
The Red Sox chipped away, scoring single runs off Cardinals starter Ramon Santos in the second, third and fourth innings to tie the game at 3-all. Dylan Hawkins, the only lefty on manager Steve Turco’s staff after Sasha Kuebel was promoted in mid-July, relieved Santos.
Hawkins, who relies mostly on breaking balls and changeups, walked the first man he faced, but then struck out five in a row before getting two more outs on a comebacker to the mound and a foul pop out to finish the sixth.
The Red Sox, however, had their own lefty reliever putting zeroes on the board. Javier Rodriguez, a 19-year-old from Mexico who had a 7-0 record in nine regular-season appearances, entered the game in the fourth inning.
Though the Cardinals got hits from Edmundo Sosa and Michael Pritchard with one out in the fifth, Rodriguez retired the next 10 batters in a row before Derek Gibson’s inside-the-park home run. By then, though, the Red Sox had already broken the game open with four runs in the seventh, starting with home run by Javier Guerra on Hawkins’ first pitch of that inning.
The Final Push
The Cardinals’ run-up to the playoffs was quite impressive, however. They could not have asked for more momentum than they had heading into the postseason, working on an eight-game winning streak.
Going into the final stretch, the Cardinals had lost eight out of nine, allowing the Mets to cut their division lead to 1-1/2 games. Then, after the Cardinals swept three from the Marlins to finish last week, they started the final week by sweeping two from the Mets to clinch the division title, then swept three from the Nationals to secure home field for at least the semifinal round of the playoffs.
Pitching led the way for the Cardinals this week, holding opponents at bay until the offense could muster enough runs. In consecutive games Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the Cardinals received solid starting performances from Jack Flaherty, Ronnie Williams and Bryan Dobzanski. Each went five innings without allowing an earned run.
The crucial game on Monday at Port St. Lucie, with the Mets still very much alive, was scoreless until the 10th when the Cardinals broke it open with four runs.
In the five final regular-season games, the Cardinals held their opponents to only six runs on 19 hits, while scoring 34 runs on 57 hits, including the 14-run, 12-hit first inning in the last game against the Nationals.
After the GCL season ended, Magneuris Sierra, Eliezer Alvarez, Michael Pritchard and Jery Then were promoted to Johnson City; Edmundo Sosa, Tyler Dunnington, Kevin Alexander and Dylan Hawkins were sent to State College and Derek Gibson walked across the clubhouse to a new locker with Palm Beach. In his first two games in the High-A Florida State League, Gibson was 5-for-8 with a home run, three RBI and two walks.
Highlights of the Week
With two outs in the eighth inning Friday against the Red Sox tough lefty reliever Javier Rodriguez, Derek Gibson hit the first pitch high and deep to right field. The right fielder leaped at the fence for the ball, which hit off the top of the fence and bounced about 20 feet in the air before landing back on the field. The right fielder had no idea where the ball was, and by the time the center fielder ran over to retrieve the ball and throw it in, Gibson had rounded the bases for an inside-the-park home run.
In the 10th inning Monday, Malik Collymore led off with a walk and advanced to third of an errant pickoff throw. One out later, pinch-hitter Ricardo Bautista also walked. Collymore scored the go-ahead run as Eliezer Alvarez reached when his grounder to second was muffed. Magneuris Sierra singled to load the bases before a wild pitch scored a second run. The Mets got the second out when Alvarez was thrown out trying to score on Edmundo Sosa’s grounder. But Michael Pritchard and Jake Gronsky followed with RBI singles to cap the rally.
In the 10th inning of the first game of a doubleheader Wednesday against the Nationals in Viera (scheduled seven-inning games), a walk to Julian Barzilli and singles by Elier Rodriguez and Sierra loaded the bases with one out. After Gronsky popped out, Barzilli scored the tie-breaking run on catcher interference with Frankie Rodriguez batting. Rodriguez then singled to drive home an insurance run.
In the final regular-season game Thursday, with home field in the playoffs still in doubt, Cardinals starter Andrew Reidt needed only eight pitches in about three minutes to retire the Nationals 1-2-3 in the top of the first. It then took 43 minutes for three Nationals pitchers throwing 69 pitches to retire the Cardinals in the first, but not before the Cardinals scored 14 runs.
Take a deep breath:
Magneuris Sierra, who went 5-for-5 with a walk to clinch the league batting title with a .386 average, started the rally with a ground single to right. Edmundo Sosa lined a single to right, Sierra stopped at second. Michael Pritchard’s ground ball single to right loaded the bases. Jake Gronsky drove in the first run with a line single to center.
Sosa scored on a balk, then Elier Rodriguez walked to reload the bases.
Malik Collymore’s single through the middle drove in two runs. His team-high 34 RBI was tied for fifth in the league. Ricardo Bautista stroked an opposite-field double down the left-field line that scored Elier Rodriguez and moved Collymore to third. Frankie Rodriguez hit a ground single into left to score Collymore. Eliezer Alvarez lined a single to center to score Bautista.
Sierra then got his second hit of the inning, a ground single to left that loaded the bases and signaled the end of Nationals starter Deibi Yrizarri’s day. Reliever Melvi Salazar walked Sosa, forcing in the eighth run of the inning. Pritchard’s double to left made the score 10-0.
Allowing 10 earned runs without recording an out increased the ERA of Yrizarri, who led the Nationals in innings pitched, from 6.63 to 9.08.
After the first 12 batters reached base, Gronsky made the first out on a liner to short. Elier Rodriguez then drew his second walk of the inning before Collymore struck out for the second out. Bautista got his second RBI hit of the inning, a single to right. Frankie Rodriguez picked up an RBI and a bruise when he was hit by a pitch. Alvarez then doubled to right, scoring the final two runs of the inning. Maximo Valerio replaced Salazar and walked Sierra before the inning ended when Sosa was caught looking at a third strike.
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