(BaseballStL) – Maybe it was his instinct, maybe it was something in the numbers, or maybe Mike Matheny simply saw something he liked out of his second baseman, but the decided to give Kolten Wong the start Monday against left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu. Matheny kept him out of the line-up in Game 1 against southpaw Clayton Kershaw, but Game 3 found Wong hitting eighth behind fellow lefty Jon Jay.
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“[We] like the at-bats that Kolten is taking,” he said, “And we like him in the line-up and don’t necessarily rule him out every time there’s a lefty on the mound. It usually comes down to what does it look like right now, so [we’re] giving him a shot to get in there and do something special today.”
The rookie rewarded his manager’s confidence by going deep in the eighth inning to give the Redbirds a 3-1 lead and the eventual win. How’s that for something special?
“During this stage, the game that we had, I was just happy that I could finally contribute to the team and do something special,” Wong said.
As the ball cleared the wall, Wong didn’t hold back his emotions, pumping his arms in the air and high fiving first base coach John Maloney. As he made his way back into the dugout, the sell-out crowd of 47,574 stood for a well-deserved curtain call.
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“To finally contribute to this team and finally do something special is exciting for me,” Wong continued, “And I let a little – a lot of emotion out. And it was awesome, an awesome feeling. And I was glad I was able to do it.”
The home run came as a relief after last year’s World Series Game 4 when Wong was picked off first base for the final out. The young player carried that weighty mistake into the off season and perhaps beyonf, struggling into the regular season and even being sent down to Triple-A at one point. But Wong admitted Monday’s home run took some of that pressure off his shoulders.
“That pickoff las year definitely crushed me for long time throughout the offseason.,” he said. “Getting back here this year, I was really excited about it. 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 and I was really excited to finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Even at 23-years-old, Wong is using his playoff experience to help guide young players like outfielder Randall Grichuk adjust to the bigger stage in their first year in the majors.
“It’s just kind of small talking here and there,” Grichuk explained, “This is the stage you want to be on, postseason is what you play for and hopefully it brings out the best in players. This team thrives on that energy.”
Wong’s game-winning home run was his first postseason long ball. In the regular season, Wong blasted out 12 homers, 10 of which came in the friendly confines of Busch Stadium. Now, the Birds are one win away from advancing to the NLCS. For Wong, putting his demons to bed makes the pressures of Game 4 a whole lot easier to deal with.
"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."