Winning their fourth Gulf Coast League East Division in five years and third in a row, the GCL Cardinals (33-21) advanced into uncharted territory Sunday when they defeated the two-time defending GCL champion Red Sox 6-2 to reach the league finals for the first time.
After splitting a doubleheader with the Mets on Monday, unexpectedly their last games of the regular season, the Cardinals cooled their heels for five days, including an off day and two more rainouts, to find out they would once again face the Red Sox in the semifinal.
The Red Sox (33-28) fought through two hurricane-induced rainouts of their own to win a playoff game with the Twins on Saturday to claim the South Division title after they had ended their season’s schedule tied.
Before Sunday’s semifinal, Cardinals manager Steve Turco expressed the hope that “the third time’s the charm.”
The Cardinals had lost to the Red Sox in the semifinal the past two years before Boston’s affiliate went one to win the GCL title. The third time did turn out to be a charm, as the Cardinals advance to the GCL Finals for the first time. They play the top-seeded Phillies at home Monday, then Tuesday and Wednesday (if necessary) in Clearwater.
Finish On a High Note
Though they had already clinched the East Division title and expected to play two more regular-season games before the playoff, the Cardinals put an exclamation point on the end of their regular season with a six-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning of the second game of the doubleheader with the Mets in Port St. Lucie on Monday, making up a rainout from the previous week.
Trailing 3-2, the Cardinals’ rally was ignited by Dennis Ortega’s single. Representing the tying run, pinch-runner Wayde Ynfante advanced to third on a double by Stefan Trosclair. The Mets changed pitchers and Turco responded by sending Delvin Perez up to pinch-hit for Carlos Rodriguez. Perez popped out, but Tyler Lancaster drew a walk to load the bases. Irving Wilson singled home the tying run and Carlos Talavera followed with a single that drove him the go-ahead run. Pinch-hitter Dylan Carlson forced in another run when he was hit by a pitch. Wilson was forced out at home on Edwin Figuera’s grounder, but Brady Whalen cleared the bases with a three-run double, though he was thrown out trying for third.
Though Turco has been more aggressive in employing first-run strategies such as steals and bunts (both sacrifice and squeeze) this season, it does not seem to have cost the team crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
The Cardinals and Red Sox were scoreless in the bottom of the fourth inning Sunday when Figuera led off with a walk and Ortega also drew a free pass. Though Carlson was batting cleanup, not a lineup spot from where you would normally see a bunt, Carlson dropped down a bunt intending to sacrifice, but it was so well-placed to the third base side of home plate that he beat it out for a hit.
Trosclair’s sacrifice fly broke the ice with the first run. After a wild pitch moved Ortega and Carlson to third ad second, respectively, Ynfante grounded a single past second that was knocked down, but still scored Ortega. Another wild pitch later in the inning scored Carlson.
Handed a three-run lead, the Cardinals’ 17-year-old starting pitcher Alvaro Seijas promptly walked the leadoff batter in the top of the fifth.
The next Red Sox batter hit a line drive deep into the gap in right center field. Ynfante, who was called up from the Dominican Summer League on Aug. 23 and played center field in only six GCL games, was shaded toward left field, but made a sensational catch.
Carlson, who had been the starting center fielder in all but four Cardinals games before Ynfante arrived, is a good outfielder, but does not have the closing speed Ynfante displayed to make that grab.
Instead of facing the predicament of second and third with no outs, or worse, Seijas had a runner on first with one out. When the following batter hit into a double play, Seijas had completed five scoreless innings, allowing three hits and two walks with three strikeouts.
Robbie Gordon retired the side in order in the sixth inning with help from some bad Red Sox base running, but after the Cardinals added two runs in the sixth on a double by Starlin Balbuena and a triple by Carlos Rodriguez, Gordon gave up a run on two hits and a walk with one out in the seventh.
With two lefty Red Sox batters coming up, Turco summoned Colton Thomson, who is called “Stones” by his teammates because he pitched effectively with guile and guts this season, and a fastball that had not touched 90 mph. In 26-1/3 innings over 16 regular-season appearances, Thomson allowed 16 hits, 10 walks and three earned runs. Among pitchers on the staff with at least 10 innings pitched, Thomson led in ERA with at 1.03 and his 0.99 WHIP was second to Jonathon Mulford’s 0.92.
Thomson easily retired the two lefties to finish the seventh, then fanned the side in the eighth, throwing 18 strikes in 21 pitches while touching 90mph for the first time this season during a 12-pitch strikeout of the leadoff hitter.
Stefan Trosclair, who led the Cardinals this season with five home runs, hit another one on the first pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning. Five of Trosclair’s six home runs were in home games, and they all were no-doubters that raced out of the park.
Zac Gallen, the Cardinals’ third-round draft pick in June, is still assigned to the GCL squad, but hasn’t pitched since Aug. 17. A clause in the contract Gallen’s agent, Scott Boras, negotiated with the Cardinals allows Gallen to return to the University of North Carolina, where he was majoring in management and society, for his senior year. In 9-2/3 innings over six GCL appearances, Gallen did not issue a walk while whiffing 15. He allowed two earned runs on seven hits.
© 2016 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.