ST. LOUIS – Dylan Carlson’s demeanor has earned him praise from teammates. His play has earned him constant playing time in various batting order positions, in each outfield position and in crucial roles -- at just 22 years of age.
But escaping Carlson this season has been a marquee moment. That changed on Friday night.
Carlson blasted a pair of home runs -- the second a grand slam in the eighth inning -- to power the Cardinals to a pivotal 8-2 win over the Padres at Busch Stadium. It was the first multihomer game of Carlson’s career, and he became the first Cardinals rookie with two grand slams in a season. The second earned him a curtain call.
He provided a chef’s kiss to the 30,937 in attendance in return.
“Shoot, that’s my first one,” Carlson said, laughing. “Haven’t played in many stadiums like that with that many people roaring. … Definitely something I’ll remember forever.”
With Carlson delivering the late offense and Miles Mikolas 5 2/3 shutout frames early, St. Louis took the first game of a three-game set against a Padres team it is trying to stave off for the second National League Wild Card spot. The Reds defeated the Dodgers on Friday, which left St. Louis a game up on Cincinnati in the standings for the last key into October, with San Diego 1 1/2 games back.
“Important to get that first one,” said manager Mike Shildt. “... We'll take that regardless of opponent.”
That the Cardinals have arrived at this place this late in the season -- despite their horrid June and despite the countless injuries -- can be attributed in large part to Carlson. He has started in every batting order position but ninth this season. He has been called upon for each outfield spot, given injuries to Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill, and has performed admirably in each.
But on Friday, he became the first Cardinals player to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game since Carlos Beltrán in June 2013. Beltrán happened to be Carlson’s favorite player growing up.
The Padres brought in left-hander Ross Detwiler to face Carlson with the bases loaded, forcing him to shift into the right-handed batter’s box.
“I kind of took it personally, switching me around to the other side,” Carlson said. “Just finding a way to have kind of a chip on my shoulder.”
That kind of spark has been learned by Carlson, advertised as a wholly calming and mature presence in the clubhouse. But he has captured a bit of fire from one of the game’s most passionate personalities.
Carlson’s locker in the clubhouse sits adjacent to Nolan Arenado’s. As far as pure talent, Arenado is the closest comp to Carlson, a full-time Major Leaguer at 22 years of age after being the focus of hype and accolades through his Minor League career.
You might not find a bigger fan of Carlson in the clubhouse than Arenado. But veterans across the board are taking notice.
“He's taking his walks, and he's taking his lumps,” Mikolas said “He's had his ups and downs, but he's been consistent in his approach and his work ethic. And it's really started to show off this last couple of weeks.”
Carlson entered the year with hopes for NL Rookie of the Year honors. Those may have become washed away at this juncture by the stellar play of Cincinnati’s Jonathan India, but it does little to take away from Carlson’s accomplishments -- a pivotal bat playing in front of his first September crowds.
His slam on Friday has the Cardinals smelling October, riding vibes they’ve been short on all season -- especially at home. And it has a potential new nickname in the works from the broadcast team, against the club that made its name last season on grand slam verbiage.