ST. LOUIS -- Despite his performance down the stretch, Dylan Carlson might not have enough momentum to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award honors. That’s less of a critique of his play and more a nod to the Reds’ Jonathan India, who's accomplishing feats only attained a handful of times in AL/NL history.
But even without an individualized accolade expected to come his way, Carlson and the Cardinals will trade that for the team hardware he’s helped put them in position to seize. Carlson, with two go-ahead homers during Thursday’s 4-3 series-finale win over the Brewers at Busch Stadium, is playing some of his most consistent baseball of the season at the most crucial moment, garnering speed with a postseason on the horizon.
Chief among those accomplishments is the history Carlson repeated on Thursday. He homered from both the right and left side of the plate for the second time in his career. The last time? Just 13 games ago, on Sept. 17. They are the only multi-homer games of the 22-year-old’s career.
Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Carlson is the first rookie in AL/NL history to homer from both sides of the plate in one game twice in the same season. And only two other Cardinal switch-hitters have accomplished the feat: Carlos Beltrán (2012) and Lance Berkman (2011).
“It’s something real special,” said Carlson, who grew up admiring Beltrán. “Not something that you try to do every day, but it's something that happened. ... It definitely speaks to me trying to be consistent, going out there and executing my plan.”
Both long balls were enough to key J.A. Happ to his 10th win of the season (and fifth in 11 starts with the Cardinals). Thursday marked his longest outing (6 1/3 innings) as a Redbird, with three quality starts and a 4.00 ERA on his second-half ledger since arriving in St. Louis with a 6.77 ERA.
Both Happ and Carlson have been toward the forefront of the Cardinals’ winning ways in the second half, especially so in September. Even in Carlson’s abbreviated career, he’s showing he can turn it on down the stretch.
In 2020, Carlson slashed .238/.283/.524 with an .806 OPS in the season’s final month despite shuttling to and from the alternate training site. In 2021, his first full season, Carlson is slashing .263/.339/.437 with a .776 OPS.
And add to those totals a pair of home runs on Thursday, with some stellar defense in center and right field to boot.
“He showed all the ways he can help us win ball games and beat the other team,” said manager Mike Shildt.
What ways, specifically? Carlson can hit for power, hit for average, take his walks and steal a base in a pinch -- and do it all while balancing all three outfield positions and preparing himself to hit from each side of the plate.
“It’s a [farm director] Gary LaRoque thing, I bring it up a lot: ‘How does he help us beat the other team?’ It was on display today,” Shildt said. “He's a good player with a lot of skill sets that always helps you, in the playoffs or in the regular season. Those are skill sets that win.”
Those are also skill sets that have helped the Cardinals win many games this season, with Carlson an impactful rookie even if he might not win the distinction laid out for first-year players.
St. Louis hopes Thursday isn't the last game he’ll help it win.
“The thing I'm most proud of is how much I've learned and grown so far this year,” Carlson said. “It's had its ups and downs, for sure; for me personally. I think I could do a better job with certain things, I think I could be a little more consistent. There are definitely areas I can grow in, in my opinion. There's definitely work to do this offseason and going forward.”
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