Once again, Wong's glove a game-changer
CHICAGO -- Kolten Wong wasn't sure if the degree of difficulty matched that of his defensive gem from Sunday, but his phenomenal diving stop, off-balance flip and double play on Monday lit the way for an eventual 6-0 Cardinals win over the Cubs.
"Game saver," catcher Yadier Molina later described it. "Amazing."
Add it to the growing list of highlight-reel plays that Wong has made this season, though few have come in a bigger spot. John Lackey had gotten into a mess to open the sixth inning of a scoreless game with consecutive leadoff singles by All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.
Lackey got a key strikeout of cleanup hitter Miguel Montero to secure one out, then the game-changing assist from Wong on Starlin Castro's sharp grounder. Wong dove to his left, flipped to his right and then watched as shortstop Jhonny Peralta finished turning the play of the game.
"Making the dive, I knew there was a chance to make a double play," Wong said. "The rest was just reaction. I always mess with throwing different arm angles, so I was comfortable staying down on one knee, and we were able to turn the double play."
That would be one of two inning-ending double plays turned behind Lackey in his seven-inning start.
"The popup play [Wong] made the other night was fantastic, but I don't know if I've seen a better turn in a bigger situation than right there," manager Mike Matheny said. "That was an incredibly athletic play to get the ball out, get rid of it from the position that he's in that quick, and then Jhonny finishing the turn. Big, big play."
Wong has dazzled with his defense for two straight days now, beginning with the diving catch he made sprinting out to center field in Sunday's 3-1 win over the Padres. That, too, saved a run.
So which goes higher on his chart?
"I think the play [on Sunday], for sure," Wong said. "I didn't think I had a chance to make that play. This one, I knew if I just make a good throw, we're going to get a double play. Castro hit that ball pretty good, so I knew he wasn't too far out of the [batter's] box yet."
Energized by how the sixth ended, the Cardinals turned it around in the next half-inning, foiling Jon Lester's no-hit bid and breaking through with two runs. Wong snapped a three-game hitless skid by driving in the second with a single to left.
"When you play good defense," Wong said, "things usually fall in place how they should."