Homer helps Wong erase moment of regret
World Series pickoff all but forgotten with tiebreaking drive against Dodgers
ST. LOUIS -- The last time Kolten Wong played in a postseason game at Busch Stadium, he was picked off first base as a pinch-runner to close out a loss to the Red Sox in Game 4 of the 2013 World Series. Wong ended up in tears, apologizing for his mistake.
In Monday night's 3-1 Cardinals win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, Wong broke a 1-1 tie with a two-run home run in the seventh inning that ended up being the game-winner. He pumped his fist, yelled in celebration and pointed to the frenzied Busch crowd after touching home plate. If there were any tears, they were of the joyful, victorious variety.
It was only 360 feet around those bases, but it was one huge step in the development of a player the Cardinals are very proud to call their own. Not to mention a moment that gave the normally stoic Wong a different kind of release.
"You saw it on my face," Wong said. "I definitely … kind of lost it out there. The emotion came out. And I was really excited to finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. You grind the entire season. You're constantly working trying to figure out how to make this game a little easier, how to finally succeed. And when you do, it's definitely one of those things you're really proud of."
The Cardinals continue to expect great things from Wong, who played his first full season in the big leagues in 2014 at the age of 23 and showed signs of what he'll become. He stole 20 bases, hit 12 home runs and played solid defense, and St. Louis remains very intrigued by his combination of speed and power and a willingness to learn and improve.
It was something the club saw even after Wong's low moment last October.
"Yeah, last year was ... he got picked off," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That happens. That happens to everybody. It just happened on a bigger stage for him. And, really, it was something that [is] just a quick lesson and you move on. He takes that stuff a little too hard.
"And that's what we're constantly talking to him about in the clubhouse and out on the field, about letting things go. And I think he's done a nice job of that. He's had a couple of opportunities, whether it's being picked off, or a play that didn't quite happen how he wanted it to, [where] he jumps right back in there and puts together a real nice at- bat or makes a nice defensive play.
"It's part of feeling like you belong here. And he's done enough, obviously, here to show that he belongs. And it's just going to get better."
Wong said the pickoff play haunted him all winter. He said it "crushed" him. But …
"It was something that I definitely look back, and I'm not thankful for it, but I know if made me stronger as a person and as a player," Wong said. "To go through that my first time in the big leagues is definitely tough. Once you go through something like that, everything else is a walk in the park."
In this series, Wong has looked comfortable in the batter's box, particularly against left-handed pitching. That's why Matheny was confident in starting him against southpaw starter Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 3, and that's why Matheny let Wong hit in the pivotal seventh against a lefty reliever, Scott Elbert.
The Cardinals, after all, aren't the only ones who are noticing how quickly the rookie is developing.
"He's a dangerous cat for me," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Wong. "He's got bat speed and can hit a fastball, for sure. You've still got to get the ball to certain parts of the plate, and we haven't been able to do it."