The postseason can change players. It can fry some and prop others up higher than before. Last night, Kolten Wong went from being a postseason goat in 2013 to a postseason hero this month by propelling the Cards to a walkoff victory with a solo home run in the 9th inning. It was the second game winning home run Wong has hit in a week. Last Monday, Wong hit a 2 run decisive home run that gave John Lackey all the firepower he needed to neutralize the Los Angeles Dodgers. Last night, Wong took back what would have been a heart piercing loss to the San Francisco Giants. How things have changed since last year…
Remember last October? Carlos Beltran at the plate. A young rookie by the name of Kolten Wong was on first base. Game 4 of the World Series had been a red hot battle between the Red Sox and Cardinals. The Cards were up 2-1 in the series but Boston was trying to close out a win. Wong drifted too far off first and Koji Uehara fired to first and nailed him. Game over. Wong could have sunk into the dirt if it was a little softer. In the post game Q&A, Wong tried to keep his composure but broke a little bit. His eyes were holding back a boat load of tears that probably flew down his face in the shower or locker room private area. He was broken. A young man transformed by one single mistake. At the Winter Warmup in January, Wong told KSDK’s Rene Knott that he was itching to make things right and prove himself to Cardinal fans.
Over the course of 402 at bats, Wong didn’t exactly light Cardinal Nation on fire with his production. He started the season at second base, but didn’t produce so he was sent down in May. Mark Ellis came back from an injury and collected what seemed like 2 hits before Wong reappeared and took the position over for good. He had 100 hits, 14 doubles and 3 triples. He struck out 71 times and only hit .249. However, a few things stood out to me. He stole 20 bases in 24 attempts. He cranked 12 home runs and drove in 42 runs. In only 402 at bats, he smashed 12 home runs. That total stuck out to me. A rookie second baseman hitting 12 home runs. This kid could be the best infield prospect the Cards have welcome into Busch Stadium since Albert Pujols showed up over 13 years ago. Overall, Wong compiled a 2.2 WAR(wins above replacement). It’s not earth shattering but it’s impressive nonetheless. This 24 year old kid from Hilo, Hawaii wasn’t going anywhere. The hype on him was legit.
Sure, he is only hitting .176 during the postseason. 3 hits in 17 at bats. However, 2 of those hits have went for game deciding home runs. I’ll take it. He did make 12 errors in 481 chances at second base during the regular season. He did make a crucial error in Game 2 that elevated a rough Adam Wainwright inning from tough to very bad. That’s all part of the learning process. When right, Wong has smooth hands at second and can turn a double play better than most. He has great range and just needs to work on the nerves and anxiety out on defense. I am not worried about his defense or his head. It will come together over the course of his career.
What I love is the power that sneaks up on pitchers six months later. Sergio Romo probably thought he could sneak that 84 mph off speed pitch past Wong and he was mistaken. Pitchers have been mistaken all season with Wong when it comes to his ability to turn on an inside pitch. I love his power, his ability to steal a base and his defense when it is right. His speed overall isn’t too bad either. Wong can be a game changing talent.
I also love his passion. The energy he gives out there. He makes up for the straight faced all business Jhonny Peralta with his big time smiles and intensity. The middle infield can’t be a flat area where nothing is hopping around and creating disturbance for opposing pitchers and players. Wong brings it every day. I tweeted that night after his pickoff at first base that he would come back and rise above the ultimate mistake. He was too good of a player to let it swallow him up.
A year later, here we are and Wong has cranked 14 home runs this year and made second base his own. I don’t think even Mike Matheny can start Daniel Descalso or Pete Kozma there this month. It belongs to Wong. In a way, he belongs to the city of St. Louis now. They scorned him a year ago for leaving Beltran on deck and swinging the momentum back towards Boston, but today all they can talk about is Wong Ball.
That’s baseball. It’s like a classic Frank Sinatra song. “You can be flying flying high in April and then shot down in May, but all you gotta do is change that tune.” Kolten did more than change the tune. He flipped the switch on his entire career.
That’s life in the big leagues. In order to appreciate the sweet, you must taste the bitter. Wong did that and came out the other side a complete player.
Thanks for reading and for more instant hits, find me on twitter, @buffa82.