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Cards' Carlson makes history in playoff debut

No. 14 overall prospect reaches base four times, scores twice
Dylan Carlson is batting .308 since returning to the Major Leagues on Sept. 18. (Rob Leiter/Getty Images)
October 1, 2020

Two weeks ago, Dylan Carlson wasn’t even on the Cardinals’ roster. After struggling at the plate over his first 23 games in the big leagues, he’d been sent back to the team’s alternate training site in Springfield, Missouri, where he began the shortened 2020 season. Now, on the final day

Two weeks ago, Dylan Carlson wasn’t even on the Cardinals’ roster. After struggling at the plate over his first 23 games in the big leagues, he’d been sent back to the team’s alternate training site in Springfield, Missouri, where he began the shortened 2020 season.

Now, on the final day of September, he batted cleanup in the Wild Card series -- and made history in the process.

The top-ranked Cardinals prospect went 2-for-3 with two walks to help the Cardinals to a 7-4 victory over the Padres in the opener of the best-of-3 series at Petco Park. He doubled and scored a pair of runs.

There was no shortage of nerves for Carlson leading into the game, as he joked that "it was a little tough getting to bed" the night before. But as the youngest player on the St. Louis roster, he had plenty of people around him with extensive postseason experience to keep him cool.

"There was definitely a lot of excitement around this one specifically," he told reporters after the game. "But you know, a great group of veteran guys in there that definitely keep you level and keep you going. Just following their lead and being able to be around them is definitely a huge advantage for me."

Carlson was part of an early eruption by the Cardinals offense, kicked off by Paul Goldschmidt's two-run homer in the first inning. Carlson followed by roping a double to left field off right-hander Chris Paddack, then scored on a single by Yadier Molina. Paul DeJong brought in Molina with a double, ending a four-run frame that set the tone.

"We wanted to come out, make a statement, score some runs early," Carlson said. "Goldy had a great at-bat, came up there, knew what he was looking for and did some damage. So for me, I was just going up there trying to execute my plan, and he threw some pitches I could handle and I got some swings off."

After a quick second inning, Carlson came up again with one out in the third. MLB Pipeline’s No. 14 overall prospect was the catalyst this time as he singled to left off Paddack and scored two batters later on a knock by DeJong. Matt Carpenter added an RBI single, giving the Cardinals a 6-2 advantage.

Carlson walked against Craig Stammen in the fourth and stole second but was stranded when Molina struck out. He drew another free pass and advanced to third in the sixth, but Carpenter went down swinging to again leave him on base. The 2016 first-round pick struck out against Garrett Richards in his final at-bat in the eighth.

The performance put Carlson on several pages in the record books. At 21 years and 343 days old, he’s the third-youngest player in Cardinals history to reach base four times in a postseason game, joining Joe Garagiola (1946) and Stan Musial (1942). He’s also the third player 21 or younger to bat cleanup for the team in the postseason, joining Musial and Albert Pujols, and the youngest to get two hits and score a run since Joe “Ducky” Medwick in 1934.

Not all of his contributions came offensively, however. He made a number of great plays in left field, including a seventh-inning effort in which he laid out to rob Manny Machado of a hit -- and lost his hat.

"[Center fielder Harrison Bader] told me before the play, 'Any ball, go for it.' He's got my back," Carlson said. "It just happened that right then and there the ball was hit, knew I was going to be aggressive on it, and luckily I was able to come up with it."

In 35 games since making his big league debut on Aug. 15, Carlson batted .200/.252/.364 with three homers, seven doubles, 16 RBIs and 11 runs scored. Since returning to the Majors on Sept.18, however, he’s hitting .308 with 11 RBIs and seven runs scored in 13 games.

The biggest adjustment hasn't come through any changes to his swing or anything mechanical, but rather just a relaxed mental approach.

"Just trusting myself, playing the game," Carlson said. "First time around, there was a lot going on, a lot of different voices, a lot of different things. The big thing for me to focus on was just being myself and playing my game."

Carlson spent four seasons in the Minors, putting together a .260/.350/.431 line. His most recent showing was easily his best as he hit .281/.364/.518 with 21 homers in 108 games with Double-A Springfield last year before earning a promotion to Triple-A Memphis, where he compiled a .361/.418/.681 line with five homers in 18 games.

In other action:

Rays 8, Blue Jays 2

Top Toronto prospect Nate Pearson made an impressive playoff debut. The 28th overall pick in the 2017 Draft twirled two perfect innings with five strikeouts, fanning the side in the fourth. Pearson’s pitches sat at about 99 mph and he topped out at 101.1 en route to getting 12 swings and misses. Rays No. 19 prospect Randy Arozarena continued to dominate at the plate. The 25-year-old singled to right field and scored on a single by Manuel Margot in the first, doubled to center and came home on a grand slam by Hunter Renfroe in the second and grounded an RBI double to left in the third. He also walked in the sixth but was caught stealing second. Box score

A’s 5, White Sox 3

Third-ranked Chicago prospect Nick Madrigal went 2-for-4 and scored a run in his first taste of big league playoff action. The fourth overall pick in the 2018 Draft led off the third with single to left field, then lined a single to center and crossed the plate on a bases-loaded walk in the ninth. Playing second base, Madrigal made a costly error in the first and a throwing error in the fifth. The 23-year-old collected two hits in 11 at-bats in three games for Class A Advanced Winston-Salem in the 2018 Carolina League playoffs. Box score

Astros 3, Twins 1

With a single in the fourth inning, Alex Kirilloff became the first position player to get his first Major League hit in the postseason. The Twins' No. 2 prospect lined a 1-1 pitch from right-hander Jose Urquidy into right field with two outs. It was the only hit in four at-bats for MLB Pipeline's No. 27 overall prospect, who spent the regular season at the team's alternate training site. Kirilloff also made a sliding catch in the right-center field gap on a drive off the bat of Josh Reddick to thwart a potential rally in the fifth. Box score

Braves 1, Reds 0 (13 innings)

No. 10 overall prospect Cristian Pache pinch-ran for Nick Markakis and scored the winning run when Freddie Freeman singled with one out in the 13th inning. The top Braves prospect appeared in two regular-season games with the big club, going 1-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts. For the Reds, No. 6 prospect Jose Garcia batted for Travis Jankowski in the top of the 13th and grounded into a forceout. Box score

Yankees 10, Indians 9

Third-ranked Tribe prospect Triston McKenzie allowed two runs on two hits and a walk in 1 2/3 innings out of the bullpen. Most of that came right away, as he walked Brett Gardner and surrendered a homer to Gary Sanchez homer. The right-hander settled down, retiring five of the next six batters, including nasty strikeouts of Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela to end his outing. It was the postseason debut for McKenzie, who logged a 3.24 ERA and struck out 42 over 33 1/3 innings in eight regular-season games, including six starts. Box score

Dodgers 4, Brewers 2

After Ryan Braun left with back discomfort, Brewers No. 22 prospect Tyrone Taylor batted for him in the fifth inning and struck out. He went 0-for-2 in his postseason debut after batting .237/.293/.500 in 38 at-bats during the season. Box score

Jordan Wolf is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter: @byjordanwolf.