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Phillies force decisive final game
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It was a long road to the Gulf Coast League championship for the Phillies.
After surviving a one-game semifinal against the Pirates, the Phillies needed to win two out of the next three against the Nationals on the road. Sebastian Valle stepped up as they took home both games and the title Sunday afternoon.
The Mexico native cranked a two-run homer in the first inning to give starter Reginal Simon all the offensive support he would need to seal the club's Gulf Coast League title with a 9-0 shutout.
"When he hit the homer, we were excited," said manager Doug Mansolino, former third-base coach of the Houston Astros. "It kick-started us. It is important in seven-inning games to get on the board and do something early."
The 18-year-old catcher had come through earlier in the day with a two-RBI double that led the Phillies back from a 0-1 deficit in the series.
"He had a long day out there catching both games of the doubleheader," Mansolino said. "He started the season with us at 17 years old and has been getting big hits in the middle of our lineup all season. This team, all year long, everyone has stepped up at some point."
"We might have been nervous out there, but that is a good thing. It gets your senses firing at 100 percent. If you are scared, then you got problems."
Simon worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first unscathed. Then he allowed just one batter past first base over the next five innings, striking out four.
"Simon was able to stay poised and under control with the errors in the first inning," pitching coach Carlos Arroyo said. "He made good pitches to the middle of the order there. He got ahead with his fastball and had, without a doubt, his best outing of the season.
"I've been preaching about throwing strikes and avoiding walks all season to these kids," Arroyo added. "And he went out there with a lot of confidence, stayed under control and didn't make the mistake of overthrowing his pitches."
Yohan Flande, who picked up the playoff win against the Pirates, fanned two in the final frame.
"The kid deserved to close it out after defeating the Pirates," Arroyo said. "He has been our best pitcher all year and has three quality pitches."
The Phillies tacked on some insurance runs in the seventh. Yonderman Rodriguez hit an RBI triple and Jeremy Hamilton doubled him home and then scored on Lendy Castillo's single.
"I don't think there is a tougher playoff in baseball," Mansolino said. "You have to win three of four. If you lose the first one, you're going home. Just when we got some home-field advantage going [Saturday] the rain came, and we were forced to play essentially three games on the road for the title."
Nationals starter Marcos Frias allowed four unearned runs on four hits with two strikeouts in four innings and Danny Gil was tagged with four more runs on five hits in an inning in the finale.
Esmailyn Gonzalez collected two hits to boost his postseason average to .437 for the Nationals.
Evan Jacobson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.