Carlson leads Cards to Gulf Coast League title

Carlson leads Cards to Gulf Coast League title

The GCL Cardinals bent but didn't break in the deciding third game of the Gulf Coast League championship on Wednesday, rallying to beat the GCL Phillies, 4-2, to take home the title.

In the final game, the Cardinals overcame a 2-0 first-inning deficit, scoring a run in the fourth and taking the lead for good with a three-run sixth, while their pitchers shut out the Phillies the rest of the way. Starter Juan Alvarez allowed just the two runs, one earned, in 5 1/3 innings, and Colton Thomson closed out the game and the championship with 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.

"I believed in them even when we were down," Cardinals manager Steve Turco told MiLB.com. "I always felt like it was our destiny to go out and win things. I told them not to worry after that [2-0 deficit in the] first inning because I always felt like we could come back. It felt funny that it happened this way because it was apropos of the way we could fight and battle and claw our way back this whole year."

Phils first baseman Danny Zardon accounted for both his team's runs with a two-RBI knock in the first, capping a strong postseason in which the 21-year-old batted .357 with a 1.009 OPS.

Box score

The Cardinals' comeback started in the fourth inning, when left fielder Dylan Carlson, the organization's No. 21 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, worked a two-out walk. He eventually scored on a Wadye Ynfante single to get his team on the board.

The score was still 2-1 in the sixth when Carlson, St. Louis' second first-round pick in the 2016 Draft, brought home the game-tying run with an RBI groundout. Two batters later, the 17-year-old scored the go-ahead run, which would hold up as the series-winner, on a throwing error by Phillies shortstop Cole Stobbe.

Stobbe, the Phils' No. 15 prospect, had a rough championship series. In addition to the error, he finished the postseason hitless, going 0-for-12 against the Cards with eight strikeouts, including a golden sombrero in the final game. But the third-round 2016 Draft pick still showed encouraging signs during his first professional season, in which he batted .270 with four homers and eight doubles in 44 regular-season games.

Carlson had also led the way for the Cardinals in the championship series opener, when he went 2-for-4 with two triples as the Cards jumped out to an early lead in the series. Carlson's two-run triple in the first inning was more than enough offense for the Cardinals in their 3-0 win.

"Coming through the Gulf Coast League, these are the first pro seasons for a lot of these guys," Turco said. "What we want them to do right away is represent the high standards and expectations this organization has for them. You're expected to have a winning mind-set. They're still learning what it means to be a Cardinal. But now they were going to have a chance in the playoffs to prove themselves in a big way, and they did just that."

The Cards sealed the GCL title on Wednesday despite a quiet series from leadoff man and shortstop Delvin Perez, St. Louis' No. 5 prospect, the highest-ranked on its GCL affiliate.

Perez, the franchise's first pick in this year's Draft, notched only one hit during the series against the Phillies, but the 17-year-old helped pace his team all year. In 43 regular-season games, his first professional baseball experience, Perez batted .294 with eight doubles, four triples and 12 stolen bases.

The Cardinals also won the Gulf Coast League without their top pitching prospect, 21-year-old right-hander Zac Gallen. The Cards' No. 24 prospect, a third-round Draft pick this year, did not pitch in the postseason after posting a stellar 1.87 ERA in six regular-season appearances, including three starts, while striking out 15 batters in 9 2/3 innings.

Still, the Phils couldn't string together enough offense to win the series against the Cardinals after forcing a winner-take-all third game with a 3-2 win on Tuesday.

That game was started by the organization's No. 10 prospect, right-hander Kevin Gowdy, who went two innings and allowed only two unearned runs. The 18-year-old Gowdy, a second-round Draft pick this year, also made four regular-season starts for the GCL Phillies, posting a 4.00 ERA and nine strikeouts in nine innings.

Outfielder Mickey Moniak, Philadelphia's second-ranked prospect and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, only played in one of the three games against the Cards, going 0-for-2 as the designated hitter. He missed the rest of the series due to a hip flexor sprain but is expected to be at 100 percent for fall instructional league.

Though Moniak didn't play much in the championship, the 18-year-old went 1-for-3 with a double in the Phils' GCL semifinal win over the Braves and also batted a solid .284 with 11 doubles, four triples, a homer and 10 steals in 46 regular-season games.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.