Wong steals the show with HR, dazzling throws
Second baseman makes pair of sparkling defensive plays in win over Nats
WASHINGTON -- Without any evening plans upon the team's arrival in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Kolten Wong instead nestled into his Ritz-Carlton hotel room and pulled out his iPad.
On it, he can cue up video of any Major League at-bat he has ever taken. He didn't want to look at just any, however. Wong had his eyes on those he took last October, when he excelled with seven extra-base hits in eight postseason games.
"I figured I'd try to figure out something to get going," said Wong, hitting .219/.308/.281 at the time. "I have never felt as good as I did during that playoff and was trying to figure out why."
He quickly saw the difference between then and now -- it's all about keeping his weight on his back foot -- and the implementation has since sprouted instantaneous results.
Wong followed a three-hit game in Tuesday's loss with another three-hit affair on Wednesday, giving him a 106-point bump in his season batting average and 142-point increase in slugging percentage within a two-day span. On Wednesday, he lifted the Cardinals to a 7-5 win over the Nationals by connecting for a two-run homer (his first of the season) and delivering a game-winning RBI double in the eighth.
And that was just on the offensive side.
Defensively, Wong made a pair of spectacular plays, ranging far to his right and executing the high-degree-of-difficulty jump-throw with perfection.
"A lot of times guys play second base because they don't have quite the arm strength," said Cardinals starter John Lackey, the benefactor of both plays. "That was showing a lot of tools there to have that kind of range and still have the arm strength to get the ball there."
The two came in succession, one to end the fifth, the other to open the sixth. Wong then closed the sixth by ranging nearly to the first-base line to cut off a ground ball.
"In the field, just reckless abandon how he goes about it," manager Mike Matheny said. "There are a couple plays there where you don't think there's a chance."
Calling it the first truly complete game of his Major League career, Wong flashed in one evening the potential that has long had the Cardinals so high on his future. Despite a season start in which he committed three errors in the first eight games and was in an offensive lull, Wong said he has made a deliberate effort to try and limit the sometimes debilitating self-induced pressure that has shackled him before.
"I am trying to keep that even keel all season and see where it takes me," Wong said. "I've always been an up-and-down emotional player, and I want to try and get away from that and just try and play the game."
The Cardinals, though proponents of Wong finding a more consistent comportment, have also encouraged him to channel those emotions when it can be to his benefit. Wednesday's performance was a test case of such, as Wong showed building momentum in his performance each new time he shined.
"He's an exciting player," Matheny said. "I just don't know how else to say it. … If he can keep that intensity and that excitement and that jump in your game all the time, heads up."